Obama left everyone with Trump
Assessing the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency, we have to speak more about the period his presidency feel onto, rather than him. The fact that a black politician became US President seemed to open a new era in the US and even the world history considering the position of the United States in the modern world. Today we can see increasingly more qualitative shifts, but not all of them are perceived positively. The world becomes unstable and hardly predictable. All the vectors of development which until recently have seemed natural and clear, are at least questioned today. All attempts to give trustworthy medium-term forecasts, find reliable and effective economic management tools and create a predictable world order based on American leadership after the “Cold War” turned out unsuccessful at the close of the 20th century.
FAILURE TO OVERCOME THE SPLIT
We can hardly say that Obama did not feel the spirit of the time. He came to the White House with the project of a large-scale health care reform (although the effect of the adoption of the Obamacare was downplayed by its implementation which did not match the whole grandiose plan). His second term was marked by two projects of global trade agreements: the Trans-Pacific and the Trans-Atlantic partnerships, as well as the immigration amnesty project. He withdrew most of the US troops from the Middle East, an agreement with Iran on abolishing to develop its nuclear programmeme in exchange for the lifting of sanctions was concluded during his presidency.
However, Barack Obama failed to become a leader with a global vision so as to be able to convince the other in the viability of this vision. It was not even that the immigration amnesty project deciding the fate of nearly five million people and determining the policy vector of the country, faced the resistance of the states and split up of the eight judges of the Supreme Court into two opposite opinion groups in the absence of the ninth judge, whom Obama wanted but failed to assign. And the immigration issue was only one of the topics obviously splitting the nation. The key problem was that the traditional political mechanisms of the two-party, but a single American system could not cope with the split, giving rise to such “eccentricities” as Donald Trump, whose victory in the election became the most important outcome of Barack Obama’s presidency. After all, the history will assess Barack Obama according to what will occur in the United States and the world in the future.
In general, the outgoing President is obviously leaving after him a more divided society than that was eight years ago (demonstrating now a social and racial split, and the split between supporters and opponents of a stricter gun control, between supporters and opponents of the immigration amnesty or construction of the wall on the border with Mexico, and so on). Mistrust to politics and politicians increased, in 2008 it seemed the legacy of the Bush administration and a hard financial and economic crisis which the country has not overcome yet. It was the mistrust Obama had to overcome.
Even the achievement that will remain in history forever – the first Afro-American President – is marred by the apparent exacerbation of racial issues, perhaps even a return to what seemed left behind in the past. It was suggested on the eve of the election eight years ago that the American society would not be able to find the strength to choose a “black” President, because the roots of the problems of racial separations are very deep, and the model of the society with racial equality is historically young. Nevertheless, Obama was elected, which was considered the evidence of the maturity of the society then.
However, it is clear today that things are not so simple. Obama was elected, in the first place, due to the position of the elites, and, secondly, against the backdrop of dissatisfaction with Bush Jr and the economic crisis. Now, probably all will have to deal with fundamental frustration and delayed reaction by the apparently not so “advanced” society, and elites are rapidly losing their influence on it.
The fact that under Obama the problem of police prejudice and violence against black Americans firmly established itself on the agenda and was accompanied by a broad public reaction, represented, on the one hand, a step forward (as it attracted everyone’s attention to the long-existing problem), and a serious challenge, on the other hand. President did reacted to it, did say the right words, but the problem has not been solved yet.
With regard to economic treaties of recent years, Barack Obama tried with their help to look into the global future, build around the US to build a new system of relationships, that would be alternative WTO. However, the implementation caused sharp contradictions. The transoceanic agreement provoked a split within the United States, whereas both Democrats and Republicans criticized it. Controversies also emerged inside the EU.
Here, in the context of the United States and the European Union, we could say that one of the reasons behind the European crisis, one of the reasons behind Brexit was the lack of attention to European affairs by the Obama administration.
THE ONE WHO CAUGHT OSAMA BIN LADEN
Discussion of foreign and security policies is generally disadvantageous for the outgoing US President. His presidency went down in history also due to the liquidation of Osama bin Laden in 2011. There was also an agreement signed with Iran envisaging lifting of sanctions from Iran in exchange for its abolishing its nuclear programme. Finally, there was a historic turning point in relations with Cuba, that were of great symbolic importance for the United States in over 50 years. But today, Osama bin Laden and the threat that was emanating from him look a very distant past. Al-Qaeda of Osama bin Laden as a symbol of the terrorist threat was replaced by the Islamic State which in contrast to Al Qaeda has not only an organisational structure but even its territorial embodiment. The attack on Mosul, which began before the election, was to create an impression that the problem was not neglected, but so far very little came out of this. Proclaiming the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, Barack Obama did not fulfill his campaign promises to the end. And a strategy or at least successful tactics of the American presence in the Middle East in the situation of radical reduction of military forces was not developed either.
Two types of tactics in the Middle East were tried during Obama’s presidency. Direct intervention was used in Libia, but with a nuance: the US acted with the hands of their allies ensuring above all the political will (leading from the behind). This tactic can hardly be called successful: attempts to put an end to the chaos in Libya failed, the US suffered the greatest damage to its image – the US ambassador was killed in Benghazi. The second tactical line implied refusal from active action, ousting “hawks” to the sideline and using the diplomacy. This tactic was used in Syria, however, it also failed to solve the crisis. Even during the election campaign, Donald Trump rebuked Hillary Clinton several times that Vladimir Putin had outgamed Barack Obama in Syria.
And the very course of history led to the turn in relations with Cuba: the disappearance of the Soviet Union as the most significant factor determining the special situation of Cuba, and then retreat of Fidel Castro from active work. This obviously was a very important symbolic step towards the whole of Latin America, however, this step should be followed by some kind of a new strategy in this field, but Obama left development of such a strategy to the next president.
FAILURE TO PROTECT THE INTERNATIONAL LAW
The main failure of Obama’s foreign policy is Russia. Resetting of the relations, that were seriously complicated under the Bush administration, has failed. Certainly, the key reason is Russia’s aggressive policy against sovereign Ukraine inexplicable from the standpoint of the international law. However, the strategic miscalculation of the Obama administration – the lack of understanding of the importance of European problems – led to the fact that the European perspective virtually fell out of his view. Consequently, the instability (including that due to the policies and actions conducted by Russia) has been expanding today in Europe and Asia. A policy of sanctions, which ultimately (albeit after more than thirty years) led Americans to an agreement with Iran, in the case of Russia naturally did not bring for two and a half years the result the West was counting for.
There is another point of conflict against the background of complications in Russian-American relations because of the situation in Ukraine: there is a potential threat of a direct military clash between the US military and Russian Aerospace Forces in Syria today. This is despite the fact that cooperation between the US and Russia could become an important factor in the search for means to combat the Islamic state.
The new quality of foreign policy challenges, in particular, the problem of international terrorism, is not already a news. This has been evident for at least past 15 years. It is also clear that the answer to these challenges should represent not only military-and-force and even diplomatic efforts. A comprehensive strategy, which includes economic, educational and cultural components, is needed. It is also clear that formation of an efficient strategy can not be limited to one geographical or thematic focus. Everything is interconnected in the world: the policy towards Russia is blended with the Middle East policy, an attempt to conclude a trade agreement with the European Union complicates the domestic situation in the EU and so on. However, significant steps towards the search for a fundamentally new solution in the fight against terrorism have not been taken in the past eight years. In this sense, Obama’s policy has remained a variation of power politics.
FAILURE TO BECOME A STRATEGIST
One can certainly say that all the problems are not only and not so much Barack Obama’s, but should be attributed to the world at large. Is it premissible to seriously reproach a clearly successful American politician, who won the presidential election twice, that he failed to deal with the problems, which nobody in the world can handle?
For all the complexity of today’s problems there is no rigid determinism of history. The corridor of opportunities exists, and much depends on human will within this corridor, more precisely from the art and wisdom of active politicians. Therefore, the personal historical “liability” of the US President is inevitable. The quality of the political class and the quality of the politicians determine the quality of decisions shaping the modern world.
And although the new stable world order will be formed (hopefully without a war!) in a very long time, but the priority tasks for the near future must be addressed already now. It is necessary, first, to start development of the reference points of a new world order so that it could cover a large part of the humanity and mitigate the conflict between its rich and poor parts, and secondly, combine efficiency with commitment to principles and popularity with understanding and responsibility. In this context, thinking about a safer world which would enjoy a development perspective, it is impossible to rely on the so-called “self-determination of the mass consciousness”. Moreover, with all the complexity and unpredictability of its reactions, the mass consciousness remains under control. And if a real, not imitative political elite and a responsible aristocracy fails to control it, populists and extremists will do it.