THE eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency of the United States of America really flew by, but it must have seemed like a long, torturous time for the man himself and his Democratic Party so hamstrung were they in trying to have legislation enacted as their efforts were constantly being blocked by the Republican Party majority, especially after the 2014 mid-term elections gave the Republicans control of both the Senate and House of Representatives, so he had to resort to Executive Orders to enable him to enact some of his reforms – many of which his successor, Donald Trump, will probably overturn.
When Barack Obama became the first black President of the United States in January 2009, it seemed to herald a new era of hope, openness and tolerance, fuelled by his ‘Yes we can’ mantra, which was just what was needed at the time, as – like many others globally – the US economy was in very bad shape in the wake of the banking collapses of 2008. His administration oversaw its recovery and unemployment was reduced during his first four years in office, although the manufacturing sector continued to be hit hard by globalisation and automation.
The biggest policy plank of his first term of office was the provision of more affordable health care, which he proposed on becoming President. However, it took over a year before he managed to get the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to reform the health care industry signed into law.
Nicknamed Obamacare, the legislation was upheld by the US Supreme Court in June 2012. However, incoming President Donald Trump promised voters during the 2016 election campaign that he would abolish Obamacare, although he subsequently indicated that he might keep some elements of it.
Obamacare was not the universal healthcare package that had been promised by the Democrat during his first election campaign, having chosen not to challenge the powerful vested interests that keep the costs of healthcare so high in the United States for their own ends. Neither did it significantly reduce the percentage of people who are without health insurance, so it didn’t prove the highlight of his presidency that it was expected to be.
When Barack Obama became president, he made a number of other promises that were not fulfilled, including gun control. In this regard, he came up against a very powerful pro-guns lobby, backed by the Second Amendment right to bear arms, which frustrated his every move.
The closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention centre, where suspected terrorists are interned, and allegedly tortured, was another unfulfilled promise. Allowing such a place to even exist is an affront to humanity, yet it seems the powerful military and intelligence communities are still getting their way on this.
While Obama has claimed the credit for ‘taking out’ 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden, i.e. helping to organise his murder, Al-Qaeda has been overshadowed by a similar but even more sinister organisation in ISIS, which operates with near impunity across international borders and with whom there is no reasoning. It uses social media to spread its message of hate and proudly showcases insidious acts of violence, including beheadings of hostages.
Its ‘lone wolf’ admirers who carry out attacks, mainly on innocent people, worldwide add to ISIS’ global reach and, if anything, the global terrorism threat is worse now than when President Obama took office. While he pulled America back from some conflict zones and did a commendable deal on the use of nuclear power with Iran, the situation in Syria has escalated out of control and created a potential flashpoint with Russia, whose president is starting to rattle a few cages to antagonise the Americans in particular without any regard for the death toll and refugee crisis the Syrian civil war has caused.
The Middle East is as volatile as ever and the United States has continued to steadfastly back Israel to the annoyance of Muslims across the territory. An interesting parting shot by the Obama administration was its refusal to veto a United Nations motion condemning Israel’s ongoing resettlement strategy, which greatly annoyed Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu.
Perhaps the most significant thing that President Barack Obama did for humanity as a whole during his time in office was officially acknowledging the damage being done by man-made carbon emissions, leading to global warming and contributing to climate change.
Previous US presidents had been in denial about this important issue and it was vital that the Americans were part of the historic deal reached at the CoP21 UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris in December 2015, setting targets and deadlines for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Hopefully, Donald Trump will not carry out his threat to try to scupper this important international agreement.
In the fullness of time, political analysts and historians will judge President Barack Obama’s political legacy more comprehensively. But, as he left office this week, there was a sense of an anti-climax when viewed against all the great hope that was generated by his election.