The end of the War on Terror. The new wave of Democrats led by former President Barack Obama promised to achieve this, an end to a multi trillion dollar war that has brought nothing but chaos and more violence across the Middle East. Every day at eight in the morning Obama received two emails from his 300 advisers on foreign policy during the presidential campaign, one giving an international briefing on the last twenty four hours and the other displaying a list of possible questions he could be asked by the press with a corresponding list of answers. Therefore it would be reasonable to gather from this that in fact this was a man who was well learned in international events and how to solve them. It by no means appeared that way throughout his presidency. Instead he has largely failed to achieve or maintain a level of stability across Asia, broker the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) or control the actions of the U.S’s old adversary. These issues, together with the obstructionism from the GOP and the limitations of his office, mean the Obama administration will be plagued in history with a view of inaction and failure to achieve both domestically and internationally. A final look at these issues will conclude the timeline for the first black president’s two terms in office.
Obama must bear responsibility for his disastrous foreign policy which led to devastating consequences around the world, in particular the Middle East. Within his first year Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” Such an action is not only an affront to the peace movement but also an insult to laureates who have actually made substantial, positive change to global stability. Even the ex-secretary Geir Lundestad stated that he regretted awarding it to the President, mentioning how it had not achieved what the committee hoped it would. His first spectacular blunder was of course the situation of Libya during the Arab Spring. The military-backed coalition of France, Britain, and the U.S entered Libya, toppled the dictator Gaddafi, and saw his tyrannical rule fall, only to be replaced with a second civil war, a weak government, a myriad of armed militias and a Moscow-backed warlord. As though they had been oblivious to the turn of events in Iraq, the coalition abandoned the country without any legitimate plan for the aftermath. A serious error of judgement that even the former President himself declared to be his biggest mistake. The country has since descended into anarchy with terrorism ripping through the land like a wildfire. Contrary to his remarks however, arguably this was not his biggest mistake, rather his biggest mistake is a move he most likely feels proud of enacting; the complete removal of U.S troops from Iraq. Just a few days before the former Commander-in-chief doubled the U.S military forces in Afghanistan, it seemed like an attempt to mask the increased aggression with a populist political manoeuvre. This was a wonderful display of demagoguery with serious consequences. Obama did not end the war in Iraq. In fact, he restarted it with a much more barbaric group being able to seize control as the absence of U.S troops left a power vacuum yearning to be filled with bloodshed. Security collapsed, the national army was left in ruins and the new U.S backed government began persecuting minorities all leading to the perfect breeding ground for a new terrorist organisation to materialise. The danger of ISIS to the Middle East would easily have been greatly reduced if not mitigated if the former president had left his troops in the region until stability and peace was finally maintained and a rational, non-discriminatory government was put into place. This is what was necessary in Libya and what will be necessary in Syria.
This inevitably leads on to the question of Bashar al-Assad and Syria, another of his failures. When Obama drew his ‘red line’ on chemical weapons on the 21st March 2013, it seems as though he had drawn that line not with a permanent marker but rather with washable ink. As soon Assad barbarically gassed his own citizens, that line dissipated and dissolved in a meagre and pathetic fashion. Whilst many will state Obama did in fact seek Congressional approval for military intervention – and was denied – this point is rather weak when analysing the wider picture. His intervention in Libya had no congressional approval, he cited the War Powers Resolution which gives a total 90 day period of unauthorised military intervention. There is no reason why he could not have employed this tactic again and even when intervention in Libya did lapse the 90 day period, he declared that in fact the U.S were only part of a NATO led operation and therefore did not require congressional approval. His reluctance to make use of these procedures will have a lasting dent in U.S foreign policy. It severely damaged the impact and strength of the Executive Office’s words whilst also harming U.S relations with her allies; how could one rely on the U.S for military and diplomatic support if they could not even follow a clearly stated policy that upholds the rule of international law? The former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Michael Mullen, described Syria as ‘Obama’s Rwanda’. It is a fitting yet painful truth to the situation, a genocide waiting to happen when the man who championed hope and received a prize dedicated to peace itself, could have prevented it. What’s more is his failure in Syria not only led to the escalation in the migrant crisis and the continued barbarous massacre of Syrians but also the revival and resurgence of the anti-Obama – Vladimir Putin – to intervene in Syria himself, on the side of the dictatorial genocidaire.
For the deplorable Russian President, Barack Obama was a God-given gift for Russian dominance on the world stage. Obama’s weakness gave way to a new tyrant-supporting Kremlin to gain masses of influence in the Middle East whilst also casually annexing and conquering new territories in Ukraine and Crimea. It’s almost painful to watch how skilfully and simplistically Putin manoeuvred the international community whilst consistently breaking international law and supporting the regimes of dictators with impunity. The United States sanctions proved weak and ineffectual, Obama failed to limit the spread of Russia’s ghastly influence and for that the world will be a darker place – at least until they are faced down. Obama’s continued support for the unrepentant Saudi regime to mercilessly bomb Yemen with American made missiles and his inability to de-escalate the Israel-Palestine conflict will paint an unfavourable light for his legacy – and it will be more permanent than Obama’s red line. Since his premiership relations between Israel and Palestine have only deteriorated, with illegal settlements expanding and terrorism still remaining prevalent in both regions. Furthermore, China has itself expanded its settlements through island-building in the South China Sea with complete disregard to international condemnation whilst Obama has failed to remove North Korea’s nuclear arsenal or put pressure upon the Chinese to take a centre stage in the situation. Instead, the defiant chubby North Korean dictator has repeatedly conducted nuclear tests whilst executing his own commanders. There seem to be too many unenforced red lines appearing over the world and, as each one is revealed to be fanciful, the strength of the American voice diminishes. On the other hand, those leaning towards a more moral direction have repeatedly questioned his use of 503 drone strikes during his time in office, nearly ten times as many as his predecessor George W. Bush. The unmanned drones, Obama’s preferred instrument of destruction, have continuously targeted countries engrossed in political violence and war, even hitting civilians on occasions.
Regardless, Obama still made some significant if not temporary progress in terms of foreign policy. Most notably he sanctioned the operation that led to the death of Osama bin Laden. However, more impressively was his careful yet calculated approach to the Iranian issue. His patience endured and he was rewarded with results in the end. Crippled by economic sanctions costing $160bn in oil revenues since 2012, the Iranian government dragged its way to the negotiating table as the Obama administration took advantage of the opportunity to finally relinquish Iran of nuclear capabilities, which it has successfully done. The master plan worked even if the new lumbering president reverses its effects. In a show of realism and progression, he extended an arm to the long exiled Cuban government, finally ending decades of aggression to reopen trade and communication with the son of the late Fidel Castro. Standing as the Climate President, he finalised the Paris Climate Agreement and championed the cause globally, almost in an Al Gore-esque fashion.
His successes in foreign policy will stand as some of his greatest achievements but the wake of destruction he has left behind him through action and inaction likewise will see a darker shadow lurching over his legacy. His call for global cooperation and collective action will be seen as an admission of defeat by his adversaries in the East, an American retreat disguised as a united coalition of a peace.
When the founders framed the constitution the importance of the limitations on the executive were clear and profound. The office is fundamentally weak on its own and only with bipartisanship or complete one party control can change be enacted. Within his first 100 days Obama knew this, he confronted the White House press corp in the Cross Hall in late April 2009 where he was asked what most troubled him in those first 100 days. ‘Change in Washington comes slow’ was his response. An understatement that seemed to resemble a sudden moment of harsh realisation for the President, frustration at the ‘political bickering’ that meant even when there were major issues on-going, change was difficult. The guilt is visible. He rode on the message of hope and change yet during his time in office he matured into the more realistic and factual President he is now often classed as. No doubt this man’s presidency has been unbelievably divisive, Republicans were hell bent on delaying and damaging the legislation and presidency of the Obama administration. They saw him as antagonistic towards the free market in regards to healthcare and the Dodd-Frank Act whilst branding him a terrorist sympathiser with his calls to end the torturous and inhumane detainment within Guantanamo Bay. Republican senator Bob Corker insists that the inability of congress to act lies solely with the Democrats, during their times as the house and senate majority they passed on a ‘tremendous laziness’ over bipartisanship to the later Republican majorities. Obama holds Congress in contempt, this is the line one half of the country takes and yet it seems unrealistic. On the other aisle Democrats state that the republican leadership injected toxicity and poison into Washington on day one to ensure the functioning of his administration would fail – which they nearly succeeded in when causing a government shutdown. He extended the dove on the olive branch whilst they replied with a squad of American football players. In 2009, the hatred for the man was clear when during a presidential address to a joint congressional session Republican Rep. Joe Wilson screamed ‘You lie!’ over the rows to the president. David Axelrod, a former advisor to Obama, rightly remarks that for a president to receive these remarks from a congressman during a speech to congress is unprecedented. This was not just political, this is rage and a deep seated paranoia of the man himself. It is hard therefore to not wonder whether Obama would have been met with the same resistance and hatred had his skin colour been white.
It is clear, however, this was a President unafraid to show his anger and frustration when necessary. When he extended a hand to the Republicans at their retreat in Baltimore, 2010, it is clear in his voice the disapproval he felt for the men in that room. He called them out openly, referencing the pollster in the front row, Frank Lutz. Imitating Frank in a humorous fashion, the former president mocked him saying ‘you know the way you’re gonna really box in Obama on this one or make Pelosi (Democratic Speaker of the House) look bad on that one’. This was in front all of the leading republican congressmen, he stood there on the stage speaking of the poisoned political process, unrestrained and bare – directly to their faces. The issue of Republican obstructionism was never resolved, even until the last days of his presidency the Senate refused to give Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland a hearing, an act which had been precedent for decades even during the end of a president’s two terms in office. The alternative to passing legislation through congress is of course executive action. Obama utilised these orders to advance his socially liberal agenda of transgender-rights, same-sex marriage, the Paris Climate Agreement obligations and certain consumer protection regulations. Any powerful legislation through executive action however could be overturned by Congress, change was still impossible over certain issues such as gun control.
Obama’s presidency has seen frustration, success and failure. When that tall commanding figure stood on the stage early on in September 2008 in the Virginia Rain giving his last rally call he uttered those unforgettable words, ‘yes we can’. Now Obama can say ‘yes we can, yes we did’, yes we did on healthcare, on climate change, on employment, on LGBT rights, and on same-sex marriage. But as the harbinger of hope, he himself will say he couldn’t on many things. The atrocities in Syria, the increased influence of totalitarianism, the continued free reign of Wall Street, the chaos in Libya, the ransacked country of Iraq, but most notably, and most painfully, he couldn’t on gun control. Massacre after massacre the President takes the stage to deliver his masterful eulogy, ending in sorrow and only to begin again in fury, fury at the inability to enact any change on gun control. ‘This happens everyday on the streets of Chicago’ he remarks after yet another mass shooting of school children. Reverend Love perfectly describes him, ‘He can make the speech but he can’t make the law’. Obama’s achievements were mainly compromises and he failed to keep many of his promises, the closure of Guantanamo Bay, closing loopholes in CEO pay, creating foreclosure prevention funds, providing undocumented immigrants with a path to citizenship, and enforcing tougher legislation on the influence of lobbyists in Washington. Perhaps if Barack were as skillful in dictating legislation and facing down tyrants as he was an orator, then maybe posterity would look more kindly upon him. What makes this more wounding and damaging to his legacy is the message he inspired, the beacon of hope that he symbolised, this entity of change that could progress America to unreachable heights. Obama emboldened and enlarged his presidency with too great expectations and of course, the bigger they are, the harder they fall.