One year into his Presidency it seems that the jury is already out on Obama. For an individual who was elected as a visionary and under the banner of ‘hope’ only time will tell whether ‘hope’ materialised into real ‘change’. Ignoring the reasons for his election, one year is too short a time to judge anyone’s tenure as an elected President.
If we believe that Obama is striving for what he claims to be – consensus and a new era of bi-partisan politics – then he has a tough order. Firstly he must overcome a divisive political system firmly built upon a fierce two party, ardently partisan, make-up. Secondly, he must overcome the divisions from within the Democratic Party itself. It is often taken as a given that the Democrats are all Obama fans. Let us not forget how close Obama was to being defeated by Hilary Clinton and how he defied all the odds to narrowly become the Democratic Presidential candidate. Indeed, his appointment of Clinton as Secretary of State proves that Obama is well aware of his own inner party divisions. Thirdly, he must overcome a society that exhumes some of the most blatant divisions in the developed west between rich and poor, black and white, North and South, East and West, rural and urban.
I myself am opposed to Obama’s mantra of ‘change’ and especially his emphasis on ‘hope’. Hope does not mean change. An individual from an impoverished background who has no private healthcare, no job, no family, can always ‘hope’ of a better situation but that does not mean that individual will achieve change. Giving hope to people in bad situations is slightly derogatory and definitely worthless. Action would be better placed in this situation. So where Obama talks of ‘hope’ in regards to the War in Afghanistan but then commits 30,000 more troops to the campaign he is saying one thing but doing the other – and that other is diametrically opposed to the former. My negative interpretation of Obama’s mantra of ‘hope’ and ‘change’ is epitomized – slightly- in his gimmicky commitment to close Guantanamo Bay. The year deadline Obama set from his inauguration to have the base closed has now passed and once more it is clear that although hundreds will be realeased, a small minority will continue to be held at the base without trial. Indeed, the proof that the closure of Guantanamo is a gimmick, and not an indictment against the underlying policy of detention without trial, is the fact that hundreds of detainees are currently being held at the Bagram base in Afghanistan. But, because that base is in an ‘official’ battlefield, the rules are different, and the justification for their detention is apparently there.
If what we are asking is not ‘Has the Obama Presidency failed?’, but rather ‘How has he done so far? Then the answer would have to be; pretty badly. Firstly, Obama has been pathetic when it comes to the Middle East. Any reasoned commentator on the Middle East will tell you that the next step to take in order to bring the Arabs and Israelis closer to peace regarding Palestine is the immediate stop to further settlement expansion, the dismantling of settlements in Palestinian territories and the return to pre-1967 borders. That should be a given. Obama has stopped short at a flimsy, and already abused, agreement with the Israelis to stop FURTHER settlement expansion in the Occupied Territories. Indeed one could argue that consensus isn’t the desired aim in this conflict. Rather, we should be forcing the Israelis to de-escalate their violent oppression, and continued subjugation, of the Palestinian people. Then again, anyone under the impression that the election of Obama would signal a new impartial approach to the Middle East peace process is deluded. Only one day after his selection as the Democratic Presidential candidate, Obama gave a speech to AIPAC in which he re-affirmed his “un-shakeable commitment” to Israeli security and (most provocatively) stated that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and must remain undivided”.
However, despite the major increase of US troops in Afghanistan, the gimmick (and failed gimmick at that) closure of Guantanamo, and the ‘same-old’ US justification and support for Israeli aggression in Palestine, Obama may soon have one major success under his belt; health reform. Health reform, and extending the Medicare and Medicaid options to even more Americans without healthcare insurance, will be a huge achievement for Obama. It is clear the bill will be passed into law once the two versions are amalgamated, albeit maybe not as radical as hoped but certainly still a revolutionary, and positive, piece of legislation that Obama can be proud of.
Obama simply hasn’t had enough time in office for us to pass judgement on whether his Presidency has failed or succeeded. However, a significant success – and one which could define his Presidency – is within sight in regards to health reform. But when it comes to the other major issues such as the War in Afghanistan and the Israeli-Palestine conflict, people shouldn’t get carried away by delusions of ‘hope’ and ‘change’ for Obama still serves, like George Bush did before him, the interests of America and Americas’ allies alone.
Don’t kick up a fuss yet, give Obama some time and send the jury home.
First published February 01st 2010