By Haroon Siddiqui Editorial Page
No one, not even Barack Obama, could have lived up to the expectations that he raised four years ago. He was a dream candidate — handsome, dignified, suave, educated, informed, articulate, oratorical and disciplined. His was a lovely family, he a model husband and father. His election as the first black president sent American spirits and hopes soaring. Whatever followed could not match that milestone.
Still, he has been a good president — deliberative and a seeker of the common good. He also turned out to be a cold-blooded commander-in-chief. So much so that he has robbed the Republicans of their trump card of branding Democrats as soft on security. Now there’s nary a peep about this president’s security credentials.
He saved the American economy from collapse. But his greatest triumphs were on the international stage, where he salvaged the credibility of America so sullied under George W. Bush.
Just as he said he would, he withdrew from Iraq. After deploying 33,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, he’s preparing to pull out of there by 2014.
He scaled down the open-ended war on terror but killed Osama bin Laden. His defence secretary, Bob Gates, had recommended dropping bunker-busting bombs on the terrorist’s household but Obama insisted on sending the Navy Seals. Obama “made one of the most courageous calls I’ve ever seen a president make,” said Gates.
Obama continues killing suspected terrorists through stepped-up drone attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere.
Short of war, he’s trying everything to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb — by isolating it, strangulating it with economic sanctions, squeezing its oil sales, ruining its currency, conducting covert cyber warfare together with Israel. But he is restraining Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from dragging the U.S. into a war on Iran — a war that Israel can start but probably could not finish without American help, a war that could plunge the Middle East into a worse nightmare than Iraq.
Obama adjusted to the Arab Spring, albeit hesitatingly and partially. Where he did step in, Egypt and Libya, he made a huge difference.
He has increased military presence in Asia, to check Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea.
That’s an impressive list of achievements.
But there are negatives as well.
He did not close Guantanamo Bay, as promised. He announced the indefinite detention of 50 detainees. He continues the kangaroo courts called the military commissions.
He banned torture but did not prosecute a single torturer or those who authorized the practice and the lawyers who rationalized it. That’s a violation of the 1984 Convention against Torture, to which the U.S. is a signatory. It bans torture and makes complicity in it an international crime.
Obama intensified Bush’s policy of extra-judicial killings, adding the assassination of Americans without due process. Reportedly he himself decides each major strike and who must be killed. He has claimed, absurdly, that no records of the targeted killing program can be released because mere official acknowledgement of it would jeopardize national security. The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging this in court; its deputy legal director, Jameel Jaffer, a Canadian, will be arguing the case this month.
Obama defended wiretapping and endorsed immunity for telecoms that facilitated illegal surveillance post-Sept. 11.
He expanded the no-fly list.
In using the Stuxnet computer virus to muck up Iranian nuclear centrifuges, he made America the first nation to start cyber warfare.
He failed to stop Israel from continuing with illegal Jewish settlements. He let Netanyahu bully him on his own turf in Washington by using Israeli lobbyists and members of Congress, many of whom are funded by pro-Israeli individuals and groups.
Obama turned a blind eye to the democratic uprising in Bahrain, home of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, and remains callously disengaged on Syria. The only time he threatened war was last month when there was some movement in the Syrian stockpile of chemical and biological weapons. It was as though he was renewing Bashar al-Assad’s license to go on killing his people so long as he kept those weapons secure.
At home, Obama’s $800-billion economic bailout proved insufficient to kick-start the recovery. He was tepid in regulating Wall Street. He looked weak letting bankers and other corporate fat cats pay themselves big bonuses even before paying back taxpayer loans — temerity that triggered the grassroots fury that helped spawn the Tea Party.
He has been shamefully silent on gun control, even as 80 people are shot dead every day, and grisly massacres by lone gunmen mount. The gun lobby has bought off or scared off lawmakers, and convinced too many citizens that gun ownership equals freedom.
All of the above criticisms, however, are from a liberal perspective — thus the sense of betrayal felt by his most ardent supporters. But those failures are of little interest to the Republicans, who could have implemented many of those policies themselves.
That leaves them only the economy to attack him on or to just hate him — calling him a closet Muslim who may not even have been born in the U.S.
The Republican economic prescription is that the Obama bailout was a waste — he should have let GM go bankrupt, left Wall St. unregulated and allowed market forces to do their Darwinian trick.
That ideological mantra helps mask how Congressional Republicans sabotaged the president at every turn, just to deprive him of any credit for economic recovery. “Their number-one priority was not to put America back to work; it was to put the president out of work,” as Bill Clinton told the Democratic convention.
The lesson for Canada is that political partisanship and big money can undermine national interest. We need to be on guard against politicians whose loyalty to their party and their pay masters trumps their duty to the country.