Assessing Obama era as Trump checks in
Obama's responses to Arab Spring, Russian muscle flexing in Eurasia and Chinese in the South China Sea were weak at best Photograph: (Others)
Eight years of Obama administration ended with the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States on January 20th of this year. Generally, commentators, analysts and historians take some time before they discuss in detail issues related to the departing administration. There is a contrasting development this time.
Media is replete with commentaries and analytical articles assessing the successes and failures of the Obama Administration. Why?
First, the outcome of the 2016 presidential election is historical, as was the 2008 one when the American electorate chose for the first time an African-American as their president. In 2016, they chose a billionaire who is an outsider to the Republican Party, to the Beltway politics and who possesses zero experience in legislative politics, military service or to bureaucratic assignments.
Experts are quick to make an assessment of the African-American president’s performance with an eye on the prevailing uncertainty over the future of their country under the new Trump administration.
Secondly, Obama himself decided to project his achievements in the light of challenges posed by Donald Trump to undo some of his signature policies, such as Affordable Care Act, Iran Nuclear Deal, employment generation to name some prominent ones.
Thirdly, supporters of Trump’s policies need to highlight the drawbacks of the Obama administration to push forward policy changes.
It is a truism to say that no administration can claim absolute success. An assessment report will always be a mixed bag. Administrative and policy decisions always have owners and losers and their perceptions are accordingly shaped.
Likewise, countries around the globe assess the successes and failures of any US administration on the basis of their respective equations with the United States. Having said that, the following observations can be made about the Obama legacy for the US and the world.
To begin with, Obama undoubtedly stabilised the inherited grungy national economy to a great extent with an unprecedented record of jobs creation, manageable inflation and wealth creation in the midst of war expenditures abroad.
Secondly, he gave respectability to the LGBT community in the US. Thirdly, bringing millions of Americans under health insurance scheme against all odds will get a place in the American history books, irrespective of its fate in the hands of the Trump administration.
But the confrontational race relationship in the US has worsened during Obama's administration and he appeared helpless in fixing it. In the midst of his wars against Islamic radicals and militants abroad, the Muslim minorities in the US did not appear to have lived fearlessly.
Moreover, while his stimulus economic package did stop the erosion of US economy, it was a large number of unemployed in the rust belt who catapulted Trump to victory in the 2016 election.
While Obama sought to assuage the sentiments of millions of Americans against persistent wars abroad by ending the US military intervention in Iraq and combat operations in Afghanistan, an unprecedented level of drones used in the wars brought considerable anti-American sentiments in the war zones.
President Obama influenced the course of the developments that facilitated the rise of ISIS in the Middle East
This is where one may draw attention to both successes and failures of the Obama administration, in the foreign policy and national security fields. Significantly, the end of military operations in Iraq by President Obama influenced the course of the developments that facilitated the rise of ISIS in the Middle East. Secondly, a drawdown of US forces in Afghanistan coincided with the Taliban regaining vast space in that country.
There is no doubt that Obama succeeded in persuading Iran to abandon the nuclear path without firing a shot. But it was a time-bound achievement, and analysts felt that Iran could emerge as a nuclear weapon power after fifteen years which simply means that Israel, principal US ally in the region, is not safe!
In addition, Obama could do precious little in reigning in the North Korean nuclear weapon/missile programme. His responses to Arab Spring, Russian muscle flexing in Eurasia and Chinese in the South China Sea were weak at best. Obama was almost losing strategic partnership with India when Narendra Modi became the prime minister of India and rescued and invigorated it. Obama was helpless in assisting the European Union to fix the financial and economic downturn.
Historians may applaud Obama’s liberal diplomacy in normalising ties with Cuba and handling Iranian nuclear issue in non-military ways, yet hard analysis will most likely blame him for leaving a world behind with more chaos than when he assumed the most powerful office in the world.