In his farewell speech on Tuesday, US President Barack Obama tried to project confidence in America’s future, while saying economic inequality, racism, and closed-mindedness threaten national unity. He pledged to support his successor, Donald Trump, in face of the widespread fears expressed over how the volatile political outlier could mishandle the superpower’s problems and affairs.
Like previous exiting presidents, Obama cited his own laurels: steering the US economy through the prolonged “Great Recession” to regain slow growth and job creation; reducing to record lows the rate of Americans without medical insurance; and keeping a ceiling on health-care costs.
Oddly, he didn’t dwell on his foreign policy pluses, such as restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba and forging a deal with Iran, freezing the latter’s plan to develop nuclear weapons.
Neither did he mention, and we can understand why not, the unending wars in Afghanistan (since 2001) and Iraq (since 2003) – which in 2008 he had promised to end – and the expanding air wars using bomber planes and drones, in five other countries: Syria, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia.
Two opinion pieces, published this week in the Guardian, focus on this downside of Obama’s legacy. One, titled “Pity the sad legacy of Barack Obama,” is written by Cornel West, an American philosopher and civil rights activist. The other, by Medea Benjamin, has this long title, “America dropped 26,171 bombs in 2016, what a bloody end to Obama reign.”
West in his article laments: “The age of Barack Obama may have been our last chance to break from our neoliberal soulcraft. We are rooted in market-driven brands that shun integrity, and profit-driven policies that trump public goods. Our ‘post-integrity’ and ‘post-truth’ world is suffocated by entertaining brands and money-making activities that have little or nothing to do with truth, integrity, or the long-term survival of the planet. We are witnessing the post-modern version of the full-scale gangsterization of the world.”
Instead, during the financial-economic crisis, West writes, Obama ignored pleas for him to break from prioritizing Wall Street (the big banks) and to bail out Main Street (business, manufacturing, trade). But he listened to his “smart” neoliberal advisers and – using trillions in taxpayers’ money – bailed out Wall Street. Result: “not one Wall Street criminal executive went to jail.”
Adherence to neoliberal policies has inflicted dire consequences, cited by West as the following: the top one percent richest Americans got nearly 2/3 of income growth in eight years; child poverty, especially of black children, “remains astronomical”; education policy has unleashed market forces that closed hundreds of public schools.
On the US “war on terror” begun by George W. Bush and continued by Obama, West writes: “We called for the accountability of US torturers of innocent Muslims [in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prisons] and for transparency of drone strikes killing innocent civilians.” First the government replied no civilians had been killed, then admitted 65 had been killed. Yet when an American civilian, Warren Weinstein, was killed in 2015, West points out, “there was an immediate press conference with deep apologies and financial compensation.”
Obama’s “lapse of character” in ordering drone strikes, he adds, “unintentionally led to right-wing populist revolts at home and ugly Islamist fascist rebellions in the Middle East.”
On the Israeli-Palestinian armed conflict, West discloses: “We protested when the Israeli Defense Forces killed more than 21,000 Palestinians (including 550 children).” Yet Obama “said not a mumbling word about the dead Palestinian children”; he even gave $325-million additional support to the Israeli Army.
In America itself, West decries the killings by white cops of black US citizens without due process. Protests have been met with excuses about the “difficult plight of police officers” and with investigations wherein no policeman has been jailed. He also points out that under Obama’s watch, 2.5 million immigrants were deported – prefiguring Trump’s even more barbaric proposal to ban and expel all Muslims and wall off Mexicans.
Zeroing in on America’s armed interventions abroad, Medea Benjamin writes: “While candidate Obama came to office pledging to end Bush’s wars, he leaves office having been at war longer than any president in US history. He is also the only president to serve two consecutive terms with the nation at war.”
While reducing the number of US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, she notes, Obama dramatically expanded the air wars and the use of Special Operations Forces (commandos) around the globe. In 2016, American SOF forces could be found in 138 countries – 70 percent of the world’s nations (including us).
Benjamin refers to the following findings of the Council on Foreign Relations:
In 2016, the US dropped an average of 72 bombs every day. All together, 26,171 bombs were dropped in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. In Afghanistan alone, it carried out 1,337 air strikes in 2016, up from 947 in 2015.
In Syria and Iraq alone in 2016, the US dropped 24,287 bombs to drive out the ISIS forces. In 2015 it dropped 22, 110 bombs in the two adjacent countries.
So what has the Obama government to show after eight years of these wars? These: “Terrorism has spread, no war has been won, and the Middle East is consumed by more chaos and divisions than when candidate Obama declared his opposition to the invasion of Iraq.”
Both West and Benjamin point out that the mainstream media and the academe have failed to highlight these painful truths linked to Obama.
Could it be that Obama may have realized (but refused to talk about it), that he couldn’t defy the dynamics of US superpower ambitions and the pressures from the US military-industrial complex to foment wars to sustain its profits and growth? The rise of “terrorism” with unimaginable hate and fury, he ought to realize, can be an extreme reaction against long-running imperialist depredation and humiliation inflicted on many nations in the Middle East and North Africa.
And America may have come to this pass partly because latter presidents have failed to heed the wise injunctions of their two predecessors: George Washington’s advice to stay off foreign entanglements and Dwight D. Eisenhower’s warning against the influence of the military-industrial complex.
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Published in The Philippine Star
Jan. 14, 2017