Legacy of a Drone President

Mahir Ali
| 30 July, 2015
The spring in Barack Obama’s step in the autumn of his presidency is surprising for most people — welcome for some, disconcerting for others.
US President Barack Obama walks from Marine One after arriving on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, on April 15, 2015. More than 50 African and global human rights groups on Tuesday called on Obama to publicly meet democracy activists when he visits Ethiopia and Kenya. AFP PHOTO | SAUL LOEB
US President Barack Obama walks from Marine One after arriving on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, on April 15, 2015. More than 50 African and global human rights groups on Tuesday called on Obama to publicly meet democracy activists when he visits Ethiopia and Kenya. AFP PHOTO | SAUL LOEB

After all, the US president was expected to be a lame — if not a dead — duck by now. The level of congressional opposition he faces has steadily been rising, arguably reaching levels that no previous president in living memory has had to contend with. When was the last time, for instance, that Congress invited a foreign head of state to rubbish a key American foreign policy initiative, and then lavished him with a series of standing ovations?
The cynosure of almost all Republican eyes was, of course, Benjamin Netanyahu. A substantial proportion of Republican deputies also sought to stall the nuclear deal with Iran by informing Tehran that it either wouldn’t be ratified in the first place, or it would be reversed in due course. To their credit, Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry, went ahead nonetheless.
It’s interesting to recall that, just 11 years ago, when he was aiming for no more than the Illinois senatorial slot, Obama made his first national splash while endorsing Kerry’s presidential candidacy at the 2004 Democratic convention. He spoke eloquently of a more perfect union that would transcend differences between black and white, red and blue.
When, just four years later, he overcame the formidable hurdles in the path of his own presidential candidacy, the advent of Obama prompted illusions of a post-racial America. It was a lovely idea, but one disconnected from American reality.
The election of the United States’ first black president was a momentous occasion, and for some of us the moment is encapsulated in the tears rolling down the cheeks of the Reverend Jesse Jackson as he stood watching Obama deliver his victory speech in November 2008.
A great many people were moist-eyed that day. They were largely, but not exclusively, tears of joy. There was also the fear among many African-Americans — at least some of whom opposed Obama’s candidacy on this very basis — that a black president would be too easy a target for the far too many white supremacists who believe they ought to be in a position to claim exclusive ownership of America.
It is hence not particularly surprising that Obama has endured the unforgiving wrath of a substantial segment of white America. The extent to which he continued to pursue George W. Bush’s “war on terror” was never going to be enough for them. And domestic initiatives such as expanding healthcare insurance reinforced absurd impressions of him as some kind of out-there radical determined to rob Americans of free choice in the lottery of life.
It didn’t matter that the Affordable Care Act fell considerably short of the norm in most other Western nations. In the guise of ObamaCare, it was all too much — even though it falls well short of universal healthcare.
The Supreme Court’s endorsement of gay marriage is seen as another triumph for Obama-oriented liberals, even though the president himself did not come out as an unequivocal supporter until the start of his second term.
On the international front, beyond the successful negotiations with Iran, diplomatic ties have been re-established with Cuba after more than 50 years. In both cases the success of the enterprise remains to be determined but the omens are broadly positive.
Then Obama was elected president in 2008, there were two broad strands of opinion on the left. One was that his presidency would make no difference whatsoever to America’s neoconservative trajectory in both domestic and international spheres. The other was that, with a little effort, it could prove positively transformational.
Seven years on, the report card is decidedly mixed. The Ame­rican economy may be recovering from the blow struck by the global financial crisis, but obscene disparities of wealth remain entrenched within a remorselessly entrenched neoliberal capitalist context. And, notwithstanding his restricted room for manoeuvre on the race relations front, it’s simply not good enough to say, as he recently did in a BBC interview, that the lack of movement on gun laws is a lasting regret. He could, and should, have been considerably bolder on that front.Obama also attracts considerable flak in his capacity as the ‘drone president’, with “kill lists” ostensibly geared towards eliminating fundamentalist militants, most notably in north-western Pakistan. The immorality of the campaign has been challenged, but even its efficacy is dubious at best. At the same time, although Obama’s reluctance to intervene in Syria has been marked down as a weakness, posterity may judge it differently.
It is unlikely that the president’s legacy as a whole will be held up as an exemplar. But even in passing interim judgement — his term, after all, has another 18 months to run — it would only be fair to acknowledge that it could have been a whole lot worse.
Read more at http://www.thestatesman.com/news/opinion/legacy-of-a-drone-president/78845.html#GpvRVXkvkE0sOzUr.99

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