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.


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

    • In the sense there were big expectations which were only rather partly fulfilled.

      The peace movement, environmental movement, Black Lives Matter, and other movements now need to be vigilant and active; whoever wins today’s elections.

      Else, in four years’ time, the situation in the USA may be worse still.


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  3. Thursday 12th January 2017

    posted by Morning Star in Editorial

    BARACK OBAMA’S farewell speech was a self-congratulatory performance that played down political failure but contained a telling reference to the scale of a task that proved beyond him.

    The outgoing president highlighted the aspiration of his enthused supporters to a “post-racial” US, acknowledging that this was never realistic.

    Despite advances made through decades of mass struggles, “race remains a potent and often divisive force,” he said.

    Racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia were deployed by Donald Trump during the presidential campaign, with supporters of Obama-approved Hillary Clinton portraying the contest as progressive versus bigot.

    It was never as simple as that. Obama’s record in the White House and the Democrats’ ruthless demolition of Bernie Sanders played a part.

    Sanders took a leaf out of Obama’s book by rejecting corporate finance and mobilising countless local activists to raise cash and votes. But, having been elected by dint of his grassroots perspective, Obama slotted seamlessly into the Establishment.

    Examining the role of racism in Chicago on Tuesday, he pointed out that, “if every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hard-working white middle class and undeserving minorities, then workers of all shades will be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves.”

    Where was this forthright analysis of the class basis for racism during his terms in office?

    Obama harked back to his early community activism, telling his Chicago audience to “lace up your shoes and do some organising” to get things fixed, apparently oblivious to his antagonism in office to those who marched in protest against corporate power, freetrade deals and overseas wars.

    He pledged to end the war in Iraq but approved military action in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia and Syria and backed Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen.

    One observer estimates that US warplanes have launched an average of 74 air strikes every day of Obama’s entire eight-year occupation of the White House. The US president has adopted a weekly ghoulish ritual of signing off a list people of supplied by the Pentagon to be wiped out by drones, authorising 10 times as many assassinations as George W Bush.

    Julian Assange’s refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London and Edward Snowden’s asylum in Russia remind us that more whistleblowers — brave people uncovering crimes by the rich and powerful — have been prosecuted under Obama’s presidency than all his predecessors combined.

    He suggested that no-one believed eight years ago that the US could rise from recession, the car industry would have a new lease of life, there would be equal marriage, 20 million more citizens would have access to healthcare — leaving over 9 million with no cover — and better relations forged with Iran and Cuba.

    But the Guantanamo detention camps still hold dozens of inmates, US police still kill black people with impunity, the gap between rich and poor increases, US troops are still involved in murky overseas wars and the political elite still pursues free trade deals that destroy US workers’ jobs and living standards.

    Broken promises and shattered dreams indict Obama both for failures in office and for assisting Trump’s ascent to power.

    Working people of all backgrounds who leapt aboard Obama’s perceived Freedom Train fell off or jumped as the president fell short before backing Wall Street warmonger Clinton to succeed him.

    “Yes we can. Yes we did,” he boasted. No we didn’t, but his earlier model of grassroots mobilisation against Wall Street, wealth, privilege and injustice can yet deliver future victories.



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  5. Friday 20th January 2017

    posted by Morning Star in Features

    The Obama administration has plenty of blood on its hands. LINDSEY GERMAN asks if his peace prize was ever justified

    BARACK OBAMA entered office eight years ago and was rapidly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

    He pleased left opinion and infuriated the right this week as he left office by granting a presidential pardon to whistleblower Chelsea Manning — sentenced to 35 years in prison for telling the truth about the United States’s dirty war secrets and the rotten dictators it does deals with.

    So that peace prize was justified? Well not exactly, in fact not at all.

    Obama’s record over eight years shows a president who was certainly more risk averse and more isolationist than many of his post-second world war predecessors, but who did his duty as head of the world’s remaining superpower, the most militarised country on earth, and the one whose record of military intervention is second to none.

    In his last year of office alone, according to US peace activist Medea Benjamin, “the Obama administration dropped at least 26,171 bombs.

    This means that every day last year, the US military blasted combatants or civilians overseas with 72 bombs; that’s three bombs every hour, 24 hours a day.”

    These bombs fell on in Syria and Libya, but also in countries most people would not regard the US as being at war with — Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen — as well as the long-suffering Afghanistan and Libya. So much for peace.

    Obama’s big promise was that he would end US intervention in Iraq. The troops were withdrawn but Obama maintained special advisers and trainers, backing a sectarian government in Iraq. The fostering of sectarian tensions which had developed under US and British occupation continued, helping to feed the growth of Isis.

    Now the US military is back in Iraq, embroiled in a bloody battle in Mosul.

    In Afghanistan, the troops never left. Despite promises to the contrary, Obama continued to keep them there and continued to bomb with often terrible consequences, such as when a hospital in Kunduz was targeted by US planes.

    The bombing of Libya in 2011 was engineered as regime change, despite its ostensible purpose of being a humanitarian intervention to save the people of Benghazi. Around 30,000 died in that bombing. The civil war that started then still rages six years on with many thousands more dead and displaced. The gloating of Hillary Clinton at the death of Gadaffi marked a low point of his administration.

    One of the great myths perpetrated by rightwingers is that Obama did not intervene in Syria. His secretary of state Clinton was among the most hawkish, refusing to engage in any talks which involved President Bashar al-Assad, most crucially in 2012 when the US believed that he was about to be overthrown.

    The US has covertly intervened in Syria using special forces and by giving support to opposition groups. Obama wanted to launch military intervention against Assad in the summer of 2013, but was only prevented from doing so by the vote in the British Parliament against war.

    The closest allies of the US in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and — until recently — Turkey have been heavily involved in supporting Isis and other groups.

    A major reason for Obama’s more risk-averse approach to direct intervention was his understanding of just how deeply unpopular the wars in Iraq and, to some extent, Afghanistan were. Hence less use of US troops on the ground and a much bigger use of special hit squads and drone warfare. This is virtually cost free for US lives but deadly for civilians in the countries bombed.

    Increased surveillance, the use of torture and the continuing existence of Guantanamo Bay have all marked the Obama presidency. They are all intact to be taken over and further misused by Donald Trump.

    Another legacy is the widespread demonisation of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and the consequent build-up of Nato troops on Russia’s border. Again, encouraged by Clinton, this conflict is a major threat to world peace today. When Russia is blamed for everything from intervening in the US election (a bit rich coming from the US which intervenes in so many elections) to leaking the ending of the BBC’s Sherlock series, we should be aware of the prospects for further clashes.

    Obama’s pivot to the Pacific has targeted China as a major military and economic rival. While Obama has been unable to develop it fully because the US has been bogged down in the Middle East, Trump has already made clear his lines of division with China, and this will be a major and dangerous feature of his foreign policy.

    The migrants desperate to get from central and Latin America across the border to the US are themselves often victims of US trade and economic policies in their home countries.

    Obama has backed these policies and the successive right-wing assaults on democracy from Brazil to Honduras.

    Trump will continue these policies with a vengeance. He also claims that he will deal with terrorism, although his Islamophobia and racism are likely to help fuel it.

    The truth is that terrorism worldwide has grown exponentially during the period of the war on terror from 2001 and Obama’s policies — drone warfare, rendition, deportation and continued occupation — have done much to create the conditions where it thrives.

    Perhaps the worst picture of Obama during these years is the one where he is shown, along with Clinton and the military, watching the real-time assassination of Osama bin Laden.

    We were told then it would mark a turning point in the war on terror. The opposite has proved true. Most of us fear for what Trump can and might do, and detest his racist, sexist braggadocio. But we should remember that Obama could have done so much more — and didn’t.

    Lindsey German is convener of the Stop the War Coalition.



  6. Tuesday 24th January 2017

    posted by Morning Star in Features

    With Obama, the United States’s plutocratic forces slowly captured him some time after his inauguration. With Donald Trump, the Establishment has already begun to protect its interests, argues NICK WRIGHT

    EIGHT years ago, when Barack Obama took office, we allowed ourselves a moment to reflect that, with the election of a black man to the presidency of the United States, something might be changing in that country.

    We allowed ourselves to share in the hopes that millions of US citizens projected onto the man. He had, lest we forget, overcome the candidate favoured by Wall Street and the military industrial complex and won the nomination by an appeal to workers, the labour movement, black and Latino minorities — what in Marxist jargon might be called the popular sectors.

    In conventional US style, enough of the plutocracy grasped the significance of this rising moment to channel a proportion of their political action funding his way. Despite this inevitable contaminant, there was a real sense that something had changed and that more change was possible.

    My thought at the time was — while the US seemed ready for a black president, that if Obama fulfilled a fraction of the hopes invested in him — the country was still not ready for him to be the first assassinated black president. In the end nothing alarmed the dark forces of the US deep state sufficiently to reach that far into their tool box.

    A clear sign of Obama’s submission to power was when foreign policy was subcontracted to his primary opponent and, true to the Clintonesque tradition, Hillary Clinton proved to be an enthusiastic instrument of the imperial war party.

    Barack Hussein Obama’s early rhetorical shift — to capitalise on his middle name — petered out while his most active personal contribution to foreign policy came to be his weekly chore in selecting, from a list prepared by the CIA, which unfortunate family he was to rain cruise missiles upon. From a potential target of assassins Obama became the most powerful executive assassin in the world.

    The tragedy is that Obama is an intelligent, well-educated and cultured man with, in US terms, a broadly progressive hinterland, and with a powerful grasp of political reality. He knows what forces are in play in US politics and statecraft and, if he had any illusions at the beginning, he knows now the limits to his personal agency and the damage to his integrity.

    In the face of the most profound capitalist crisis in recent history his policy priority was to bail out the banks and stabilise the financial system while even his attempt to modernise US healthcare eventually surrendered to a business model which bestowed new income streams upon the insurance industry.

    Submission to the imperatives of globalisation meant his industrial policy was subordinated to the interests of the finance sector.

    His term of office as the first black president was marked by an unending succession of police killings of black people, the mass incarceration of young black and Latino people, extra judicial imprisonment in Guantanamo, torture and rendition.

    To this record of broken dreams and disappointed hopes must be added the bombs with which his administration deluged the Muslim world.

    And here is the paradox which illustrates just how profound is the crisis that grips bourgeois politics. While the most compelling challenge to bipartisanship in the US presidential election campaign came from Bernie Sanders, the actual breach came with the election of Donald Trump.

    Which brings us to the dodgy dossier of salacious titbits which, it now appears, have entered the inauguration preparations through the agency of a former British ambassador to Moscow and a superannuated Russian specialist from MI6.

    Rumours about this stuff have been circulating round intelligence circles and media organisations for some time.

    It appears that when the entrepreneurial Citizen Steele compiled his original compendium of rumour and speculation he did so at the bidding of Republican Party opponents of Trump, but that with Trump’s nomination the account was transferred to the Democratic Party’s interest.

    It is possible, if improbable, that a digital record of sexual gambols may exist somewhere in the Dzerzhinsky Square archives. If it does, it is unlikely, short of regime change in Russia, to appear, if only because it might support the narrative so actively presented in the liberal media that Donald Trump was the candidate of the Kremlin. If he was the Kremlin would not want to prove it.

    This is the perfect smear precisely because it cannot be refuted and because the more energetic the attempts to disprove it, the more likely are the unwitting to suspect it might be true.

    Was there interference by Russian agencies in the US election?

    Of course, these things do happen. (At this point, may I recommend the excellent Manifesto Press book, prepared with the co-operation of the Venezuelan embassy entitled US interventions in Latin America.)

    Like every other political and intelligence agency, the FSB — Putin’s sword and shield — was trying to gain an insight into the dynamics of the US presidential contest. Maybe some residue of dialectical thinking — left over from the days when the FSB’s predecessor was defending working-class power — may have given them an extra edge.

    But this most recent US election was so novel — and developments so unpredictable — that Russia’s spies would have been better off communing with the ghostly corpse of Lenin than trying to predict what actually happened.

    US elections can be bought; in fact they always are. But the sums of money are so great and the process so transparent that the entry price for a foreign “investor” is impossibly high. US electoral fraud is commonplace and manipulation of electoral rolls, constituency boundaries and voters’ rights are so much part of the ritual that a foreign intervention would be spotted by somebody.

    What of the dossier then? Given the suspicions engendered by the last public offering by Britain’s intelligence apparatus — the original dodgy dossier conceived on Tony Blair’s sofa and sexed-up by his mouthpiece — one might have expected something a bit more convincing.

    It is a poor piece of work. Names of places and people are misspelt, people are alleged to have conspired in places that they never visited and sources are not given.

    More than a dozen sections are serially deficient in convincing detail, lack evidence of any rigour in checking and verification and are missing in background on the “sources.”

    It gives the impression of a prospectus rather than a finished project, something like a bid for further financing.

    Speculative in every sense of the word.

    When intelligence officers leave the service at an early stage in their career and set up in the consulting business, the suspicion naturally arises that this is designed to create a measure of plausible deniability. The suggestion by the usual “intelligence sources,” that the current head of MI6, in his first public speech, used material supplied by Christopher Steele rather supports the idea that the British intelligence machinery is an active participant in this process.

    Thus the British connection arouses interest. The motive of the US intelligence establishment in promoting it is clear.

    In framing the legitimacy of Trump’s election as under challenge, his freedom to formulate foreign and intelligence policy that breaks with the pre-existing consensus is limited.

    As usual, the motives of the British foreign policy and intelligence apparatus can be sensibly located in their overweening desire, as always, to prove their loyalty to the North Atlantic project and their willing submission to US leadership.

    All of which is threatened if Trump comes anywhere near recalibrating the US relationship with Russia.

    And this puts them in something of a bind because, with Trump as commander-in-chief and his appointees in charge of the many-headed US intelligence empire, new lines of communication may need to be established.

    This may account for the speed with which sources close to Britain’s intelligence bosses now appear to be rubbishing the dossier.

    It is in this light that we can see how the convergence of Atlanticist and European Union interests are threatened by a Trump administration that — on the basis of his election rhetoric — seems inclined to weaken US involvement in Nato’s forward engagement in eastern Europe, make the European states pay for their own war spending and effect a rapprochement with Russia over Ukraine.

    As with the divisions within British big business over membership of the European Union, splits exist in the world of US big business.

    Some sections rely more on the military and intelligence reach of the US to maintain their dominance of global markets, resources and raw materials.

    Other sections, subordinate but not negligible, see in the size of the US domestic market and scale of its natural resources sufficient potential to realise profit.

    Whatever the reasons, the internal contradictions within capitalism highlight a systemic crisis.

    And every element needs to play to significant sectors of public opinion if they are to win office.

    It is fruitless to speculate on what range of personal, political and material motives drive Donald Trump.

    But it is unanswerable that he needs to do something to meet the expectations raised by his verbal assault on the US elite and his pledges to do something about jobs and manufacturing.

    And to do so will bring him up against this new consensus that unites the sections of corporate power, the state apparatus and the liberal elite in a neoliberal nexus.

    If he indeed commissioned the dossier, Senator John McCain should ask for his money back, or at least split the cost with Clinton.

    The dossier’s authors assert that the Russians rigged the election. Not that they tried to but that they did. Yet they assert, again without evidence, that the actual count was inviolate.

    We can be sure that if any actual evidence existed that the voting process had been tampered with, it would be in the public domain and working its way through the legal system.

    The purpose in promoting this document lies not in protecting the integrity of the US electoral process or the inviolability of the US constitution but in constructing a straitjacket for Donald Trump.

    Where, in Obama’s case this took place after his assumption of office, with Trump it is taking place before.

    Maybe the forces he has stimulated represent a bigger, if inchoate, potential threat to the political establishment and foreign policy continuity than did the expectations raised by the early Obama?



  7. Thursday 26th January 2017

    posted by Morning Star in Features

    Despite the liberal media’s veneration of the former US president, Obama did very little indeed to protect the environment. Trump and co, however, represent a serious threat to the survival of our species, says IAN SINCLAIR

    WHAT grade does former president Barack Obama deserve for his environmental policies? According to the BBC the Obama administration should be awarded an “A-” for negotiating the 2016 Paris climate agreement, introducing new regulations governing pollution from US power plants and designating 548 million acres of US territory as protected areas.

    The Guardian anticipated this positive assessment of Obama’s actions on the environment with a 2014 leader column asserting that “President Obama’s commitment to fighting climate change has not been in doubt.”

    This support for Obama was taken to extraordinary lengths by last year’s BBC documentary series Inside Obama’s White House. With the 2009 UN climate talks in Copenhagen heralded as the final chance to save the planet from dangerous levels of climate change, the BBC’s one-sided account explains Obama worked to solve the climate crisis in the face of Chinese intransigence. The Chinese — and not the US, apparently — “were afraid of the impact on their economy.”

    With India, Brazil and South Africa joining China in a supposedly secret meeting “to stop the climate deal,” the film excitedly tells a story of Obama crashing the party to force an agreement on China in a sincere attempt to save the planet.

    There is, of course, more to the story. As the US historian Howard Zinn once noted: “The chief problem in historical honesty is not outright lying, it is omission or de-emphasis of important data.”

    In contrast to the BBC’s hagiography, George Monbiot — arguably the most knowledgeable environmental commentator in Britain — noted at the time that “the immediate reason for the failure of the talks can be summarised in two words: Barack Obama.”

    Bill McKibben, a leading US environmentalist, concurred, arguing Obama “has wrecked the UN and he’s wrecked the possibility of a tough plan to control global warming.”

    Missing from the BBC’s account, Canadian author Naomi Klein highlighted a key reason behind Monbiot’s and McKibben’s conclusions: “Obama arrived with embarrassingly low targets and the heavy emitters of the world took their cue from him.”

    How low were the targets? The European Union went into the talks promising to cut its carbon emissions by 30 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020. Obama — whose commitment to fighting climate change, remember, “has not been in doubt” — offered a measly 4 per cent cuts below 1990 levels by 2020. Obama was “the conservative voice among world leaders” when it came to climate change, “supporting the least aggressive steps,” noted Peter Brown, the assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, in the Wall Street Journal.

    The attempt to block significant action on the international stage broadly mirrors the former president’s inaction domestically during his first term.

    The Guardian’s Suzanne Goldenberg uncovered an important spring 2009 meeting at the White House between the Obama administration and leaders of the US green movement in which, incredibly, the environmentalists were told not to talk about climate change.

    With the Obama team apparently concerned about attacks from industry and conservative groups, Goldenberg noted the meeting “marked a strategic decision by the White House to downplay climate change — avoiding the very word,” which in turn produced a near total absence of the issue during the 2012 presidential campaign.

    Goldenberg reports that “environmental groups, taking their cue from the White House… downplayed climate change” after the meeting.

    McKibben, who attended the summit, was one of the few people to speak out against the strategy: “All I said was sooner or later you are going to have to talk about this in terms of climate change. Because if you want people to make the big changes that are required by the science then you are going to have to explain to people why that is necessary and why it’s such a huge problem.”

    While the liberal media was dazzled by Obama’s Christ-like campaign rhetoric about slowing “the rise of the oceans” and healing the planet, in office the first Black president pursued an “all-of-the-above” energy policy. This, according to environmental journalist Mark Hertsgaard, “made the United States the world’s leading producer of oil and gas by the end of his first term.” Writing in 2013, McKibben provided clarification: “We are […] a global-warming machine. At the moment when physics tells us we should be jamming on the carbon breaks, [the US] is revving the engine.”

    What about the Environmental Protection Agency rules Obama introduced in 2014 to cut carbon pollution from power plants by 30 per cent? These are certainly a step in the right direction but, as Kevin Bundy from the Centre for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute noted, the proposals are “like fighting a wildfire with a garden hose — we’re glad the president has finally turned the water on, but it’s just not enough to get the job done.”

    Internationally, the ongoing UN climate talks continued to be a fiasco in the years after Copenhagen, with the Guardian’s chief environmental correspondent John Vidal laying the blame in 2012 “squarely on the US in particular and the rich countries in general.”

    Vidal continued: “For three years now, they have bullied the poor into accepting a new agreement. They have delayed making commitments, withheld money and played a cynical game of power politics to avoid their legal obligations.”

    Troublingly, the widely heralded Paris Agreement — for which the liberal media have repeatedly congratulated Obama for realising — is looking increasingly like a red herring. Though the text of the accord agrees to hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2°C, and pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C, a recent survey of a number of leading climate scientists and analysts by author Andrew Simms found that not one thought the 2°C target would likely be met.

    Speaking last year to the Morning Star, top climate scientist Professor Kevin Anderson said the pledges made by nations at Paris would likely lead to a catastrophic 3-4°C rise in global temperatures and “probably the upper end of that.”

    Asked by Hertsgaard in 2014 how history will judge the 44th president on climate change, senior Obama adviser John Podesta replied that while his boss “tried to address the challenge […] 50 years from now, is that going to seem like enough? I think the answer to that is going to be no.”

    Writing in The Nation earlier this month, Hertsgaard reconfirmed Podesta’s conclusion: “Obama did more in his second term, but nowhere near enough. The climate emergency is still advancing faster than the world’s response, not least because of the United States’ inadequate actions.”

    Two lessons about climate change can be taken from the eight years of the Obama administration.

    First, it is clear the liberal media such as the BBC and the Guardian cannot be trusted to give an accurate picture of what Obama actually did in office — what George Orwell called the “power of facing unpleasant facts.”

    Second, many of the positive steps Obama took on climate change were arguably down to grassroots pressure. For example, the Obama administration’s cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline which was going to transport oil from the deadly Canadian tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico was, as McKibben and Hertsgaard have argued, a victory for the indigenous-led grassroots resistance movement.

    With the climate change-denying President Donald Trump and his powerful supporters threatening a bonfire of US environmental regulation and international climate agreements, it is essential the US and global green movements grow substantially and become more active and effective.

    Terrifying though it is to contemplate, it is no exaggeration to say that the very future of humanity rests on the outcome of this struggle.



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  31. It’s pretty unfortunate that Obama has waited until now to speak out [on mass oncarceration], but it’s good that he is speaking out… I think … after this world-historic election that took place, we went home and decided that this one man in Washington would carry the ball for us, not recognizing that, actually, he was the president of the imperialist, militarist United States of America. And I think that we might have had more victories during the era of Obama’s administration had we mobilized, had we continually put pressure on him, and also created the possibility for him to take more progressive stances.

    Angela Davis


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