Obama’s presidency, an incomplete balance sheet

Obama and Bush, cartoon

This cartoon is about United States President Obama and the legacy of wars, scandals, and economic collapse of his predecessor George W Bush.

Soon (or, maybe not that soon, remember the 2000 election) we will know who will succeed Barack Obama as president of the United States of America.

Just before we know that, a balance sheet on this blog of Obama’s presidency.

I warn people who think that Obama never did anything wrong that they won’t like it.

I warn people who think that Obama never did anything right that they won’t like it either.

My personal view is that, unless very unexpected things will happen, Obama will turn out to have been a better president than either his predecessor George W Bush; or his successor; whether that will be Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. However, that in itself does not really say much.

This balance sheet will be extremely incomplete and unsatisfactory, because:

– The new president will only take over in January 2017, and one never knows what may happen between now and then.

– During the eight years of Obama’s presidency, thousands of events occurred; far too many to deal with in a blog post.

– Like with other presidents, many documents, emails etc. relevant for discussing Obama’s presidency are still secret, top-secret or whatever. Some of them may only become known in thirty years’ time; some of them never.

Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign differed from other campaigns. Many politicians claim: Yes, I can. However, the slogan of Obama’s campaign was: Yes, we can. Implying an essential link between the candidate and a movement of millions of people wanting a better country and a better world.

Obama won that election. However, on that 5 November 2008, this blog warned:

Much power in the USA still lies with unelected bosses of big banks, Big Oil, Big Military Production, etc.

The recently deceased US peace activist Tom Hayden said there are people more powerful than the president in the Washington establishment; like in the Pentagon and CIA bureaucracies. Obama would find that out.

At the inauguration of, eg, George W Bush, there were not so many supporters; and many protesters. While at Obama’s January 2009 inauguration, there were more people celebrating in Washington DC than with any other president; millions of them.

However, later, when Obama might have conflicts with right wingers within his own administration, or with Congress, or with Big Business, these big crowds did not return to demonstrate in Washington or elsewhere in his support. What had happened? The link between Obama and the movement which had elected him had become looser and looser. The new ‘Yes we can’ had changed more and more into the old ‘Yes I can’. And ‘I’ can improve a lot less than ‘we’.

Symbolic of this was the September 2009 dismissal of Obama administration environment official Van Jones, as a result of pressure by Big Oil.

In 2012, Jones reflected on this problem:

The Age of Obama: What Went Wrong (and How to Fix It) …

I say Obama relied on the people too little, and we tried to rely on him too much.

Let me speak personally: looking back, I do not think those of us who believed in the agenda of change had to get beaten as badly as we were, after Obama was sworn in. We did not have to leave millions of once-inspired people feeling lost, deceived, and abandoned. We did not have to let our movement die down to the level that it did.

The simple truth is this: we overestimated our achievement in 2008, and we underestimated our opponents in 2009.

What did the Obama presidency mean for war and peace issues?

In 2009, one thing did not augur well. Obama kept George W Bush’s Secretary of War … sorry … ‘Defence’, Robert Gates, at the top of the Pentagon.

In 2011, Gates was replaced by CIA boss Leon Panetta. While CIA boss, Panetta had defended George W Bush-era CIA torture against Obama. As Secretary of War … sorry … ‘Defence’, Panetta clashed with Obama, as the Pentagon bigwig thought Obama was not hawkish enough on Iraq and Syria. It is to Obama’s credit that in 2013, contrary to the wishes of warmongers like US Republican Senator McCain and the Saudi absolute monarchy, he did not use the United States Air Force for regime change war in Syria, in practice as allies of al-Qaeda and ISIS. It is also to his credit that he de-escalated the relationship between the USA and Iran.

In 2013, Obama replaced Panetta with Republican senator Chuck Hagel. Replacing the Democrat Panetta with a Republican may sound bad. But actually, it was sort of an improvement. Hagel had opposed the 2007 ‘surge’ escalation in Iraq by his fellow Republican Bush. He was one of few Republican politicians thinking the Republican propaganda slogan of ‘small government’ might also be applied as some cuts in the bloated Pentagon budget.

Then, in February 2015, Obama sacked Hagel.

During his 2008 election campaign, Obama had, rightly, advocated to stop the Iraq war; and, wrongly, to escalate the Afghan war.

Obama did wind down the United States occupation of Iraq; far too slowly. And then, the Iraq war re-started and United States soldiers returned, after the rise of ISIS (a product of George W Bush’s 2003 invasion). United States and other NATO bombs still kill many Iraqi civilians.

Unfortunately, Obama did keep his election promise of escalating the Afghan war. Then came some de-escalation. De-escalation which stopped again; as United States and other NATO bombs still kill many Afghan civilians.

Meanwhile, the assassinations without trial by drones, mostly of civilians, became even worse than under the Bush administration: in Afghanistan; in Pakistan; in Yemen; in Somalia; etc.

In September 2009, the Obama administration scrapped George W Bush’s plans for missiles in eastern Europe; thus de-escalating tensions between nuclear armed NATO countries and nuclear armed Russia.

Unfortunately, this positive development did not last. Samantha Power, preaching military escalation under ‘humanitarian’ pretexts, became a high level United States administration official.

So did Victoria Nuland, ex-adviser of George W Bush’s warmongering Vice President Dick Cheney. She became Obama’s Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs. She became mostly (in-)famous for saying ‘Fuck the European Union’, as she thought the European Union was too hesitant in supporting neonazi violence in a coup against the elected government of Ukraine. A coup which led to a cycle of bloodshed and more and more refugees; like other ‘humanitarian’ wars advocated by neo-conservatives and ‘liberal hawks‘.

And, while President Obama publicly opposed the military coup against the elected president of Honduras, Obama’s 2008 election rival, meanwhile his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton sabotaged that view behind his back.

One of Obama’s 2008 election promises was to close down George W Bush’s torture camp in Guantanamo Bay on Cuba. Unfortunately, today it is still open.

How about environmental issues? Obama created the first US Atlantic marine monument. He recommended to stop drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Obama administration made Arctic drilling harder — but not impossible. The BP fat cats, the polluters of the Gulf of Mexico, got just a slap on the wrist for their crimes.

This video from the USA says about itself:

20 April 2011

A year after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico Cenk Uygur shares bad news on regulations, energy policy and the actions of the president.

There were vile racist attacks on Obama. A Christian Right preacher preached he should be murdered. Violent neonazis plotted to put that preacher’s theory into practice.

How about civil rights during the Obama presidency? Police keep killing unarmed people. Disproportionately many of them are African Americans and Native Americans. Obama’s Justice Department reported institutional racism in the police department in Ferguson, Missouri. Yet, they did not dare to interfere with the killer of Michael Brown in Ferguson and similar police officers with blood on their hands going scot-free.

To end on a positive note, there were some better developments for the rights of women and LGBTQ people during the Obama presidency.

One of Obama’s first measures after his inauguration was abolishing George W Bush’s misogynist ‘global gag rule’. During the Obama administration the homophobic DADT rule in the military was abolished. And the United State Supreme Court proclaimed equal marriage rights for LGBTQ people.

My President Was Black. A history of the first African American White House—and of what came next. By Ta-Nehisi Coates: here. Critical comment on this: here.

This 19 January 2017 video is called On Final Day of Obama Presidency, a Look at His Mixed Legacy & the Rise of Neo-Fascism in Washington.


56 thoughts on “Obama’s presidency, an incomplete balance sheet

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