- 07 Aug 2017 12:04
Obama's presidency, like any other president's tenure, has to be examined by term. 2008 - 2012 and 2012 - 2016. The first term was notably more successful than the second, no doubt influenced by the upsets in the 2010 and 2012 election, with the Republicans controlling the Congress and coming close to contesting the Senate. As a result of this, completely standard political phenomena in the American system, the President was only able to exert completely unopposed governance between 2008 and 2010. Indeed, the Republicans still control the House which means the Democrats have not had a congressional majority for almost eight years now. Clearly their ability to introduce and influence legislation was going to be curtailed therefore after 2010.
So in 2008 Obama was elected with huge fanfair and much celebration. He had two basic expectations which were ending the war in the Iraq and providing some kind of break on the economic collapse which by Obama's inauguration in 2009 had removed trillions of dollars of market value. The real impact on the economy however was the collapse of interest rates to less than 1% for nine years of what has subsequently become known as "austerity" economics. Global debt crisis threatened to bankrupt large parts of the European Union as well, including Italy, Spain, Greece, and Ireland. The war in Iraq was in poor shape with Bush era generals recommending a withdrawal from Iraq and an expansion of force in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which Obama considered the primary front in the War on Terror.
So what was done between 2009 and 2012 was the following of a strategy that was put forward largely by David Petraeus in his COIN doctrine which involved surging troops to Afghanistan to remove the Taliban from villages. In Iraq, US forces withdrew in 2010 leaving Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to run the war, which she did through private mercenariness. This strategy was not successful as, unlike US soldiers, mercenaries are not capable of conducting COIN operations, and this eventually led to the emergence of extreme factions in northern Iraq which would become unified as ISIL.
In 2010 the Democrats lost the House, but Obama was able to get the Affordable Care through which remains a landmark healthcare bill for the United States, described by many as based on Ma. governor Mitt Romney's "Romneycare" the success of which no doubt influenced Mitt Romney to run for election in 2012. Meanwhile the right-wing media escalated their conflict with Obama, targeting him on racist lines, eventually supported by a cohort of so-called "tea parties" that collectively became known as the extreme Christian fundamentalist wing of the Republican party. Media icons like Glenn Beck on Fox News were influential in generating the media fury that supported the emergence of these groups, likewise Steve Bannon made fiery documentaries about Alaska governor and presidential candidate Sarah Palin and Christian wacko Michele Bachmann, amongst others.
Coinciding with the 2009 "reset" with Russia advanced by Clinton and Obama's Cairo speech advocating for a new secular Islam , resulted in slackening of Russian involvement in the Middle East, and, prompted by a government revolt in Tunisia, generated what became known as the Arab Spring revolution which proceeded to topple the governments of Tunisia and Egypt, while causing a crisis in Libya that NATO quickly exploited. When the revolution spread to Syria, however, it was halted and although liberally backed by State department money, was unable to overthrow Bashir al-Asad, resulting in a protracted civil war that is still ongoing. There was some expectation in 2011 that Obama might intervene militarily over the Syrian crossing of the "red line" use of chemical weapons, but Obama refused to intervene. In 2012 Obama defeated Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to retain the presidency, however the House remained Republican. In 2010 bin Laden was assassinated in Pakistan by a team of Navy SEALs, dramatically illustrating the complex nature of the ongoing war on terror, but giving Obama a solid foreign policy victory he could use in 2012. In October 2012 Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of New Jersey, but Obama's response was considered a success, a political triumph when compared to the notoriously disastrous handling of the Katrina hurricane in 2005 during Bush's presidency.
The subsequent second half of the Obama presidency thus began on the brink. The Arab spring had petered out and the economic crisis had slowed. However there was political gridlock in Washington and the Republicans, radicalized by money for capitalist donors and Christian fundamentalist lunatics threatened to shutdown the government. Obamacare was used as a rallying cry by the right to defeat what was portrayed to the conservative base as Obama's tyrannical yet ineffective rule. Evidence for the tyrannical nature of the rule was generated in 2013 when NSA sub-contractor Edward Snowden leaked detail information on NSA spy programs that had been arranged with tech and software companies and involved mass spying of foreign government leaders including such persons as Angela Merkel.
It was later revealed that this was generally part of Obama's doctrine, which involved a dramatic expansion of the CIA, NSA, and SOCOM counter-terrorist effort and the handing of basically free reign to the US security community and its international allies, including GCHQ in Britain and CSIS in Canada. The result of Snowden's leaks showed a shocking expansion of government power that really scared people and seemed to give fuel to the Republicans, such as Senator Rand Paul, whose star was rising as a result of his championing of his Congressman father's libertarianism. Libertarianism became integrated with the tea party movement in an unholy alliance, united with Christian fundamentalism to ultimately form what today we could call the "alt right".
On September 11 2012 Al Qaeda terrorists killed US Ambassador Stevens in Benghazi, ultimately prompting a political crisis that caused Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to resign, where she was replaced after the 2012 election, by former US Presidential candidate John Kerry. Clinton's resignation was a great victory for the right, who were able to use this to flog the president for the next four years, during which time congressman Trey Gowdy rose to prominence.
In the spring of 2014 the Arab Spring model of Facebook revolution was exported to Ukraine resulting in the toppling of the government and the subsequent demonstration of "Hybrid war" by the Russian Federation was a shock to the world. The Obama administration imposed economic sanctions on Russia for invading Crimea and kicked Russia out of the G8. In response Russia began to escalate its involvement in the Syrian civil war which now began to take on the characteristics of a proxy war, made dramatically worse when the radical Sunni group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant declared an Islamic Caliphate (June 2014), last abolished by Ataturk in 1924.
It now became widely apparent that American involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, had, after a brief period of liberalization in 2010, allowed radical Islam backed by Iran to take power, and that a dramatic reassessment of the US strategy was necessary. When China began to expand its South China Sea island bases and Russian invaded Crimea, and then intervened directly in Syria, the nature of the crisis became evident. For the remained of Obama's presidency he was wholly on the defensive, reacting to domestic and global crisis, in many ways made worse by his strategic approach to the region. In October 2013 the Republicans also used their control of the House to defund the government, impacting the credit rating of the United States and probably exacerbating or lengthening recovery process. American infrastructure and manufacturing were desperately in need of reform but government spending could not be authorized as a result of Republican opposition. In 2015 Obama attended the Paris Climate Change conference that attempted to form a global consensus on reducing green house gas emissions. Obama had championed energy reform (the infamous Solyndra scandal...) which had a dramatic impact on the Department of Defence, shifting towards domestic sources of fuel to reduce the United State's strategic weakness.
In 2015 the Obama administration under Secretary of State Kerry began to build a coalition to defeat ISIL, while maintaining low-level proxy wars in Ukraine and Syria. The Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTFOIR) that was built up began bombing northern Iraq and Syria. simultaneously a deal was arranged with the Iranian government to attempt to prevent them from nuclearizing. This process of coalition building and Iranian containment was continuing in 2016, and had reached dramatic peak with the invasion of Mosul by coalition forces when the Democrats were removed from power in the 2016 general election.
Looking back on the world of 2008 from 2017 we clearly see that the international security situation collapse in a number of areas. Obama was not directly responsible for some of these, but he was involved in funding and encouraging them as they conveniently removed two despised regional strongmen (Ghadaffi and Mubarak) and promised to do so to another (al-Assad) in Syria. The repeat process removed Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine, seen as a positive step for a liberalizing of Eastern Europe.
However, the scale of the crisis and limitations imposed on Obama by fiscal stringency in some areas and political opposition in others seriously curtailed his ability to manage these expanding crisis successfully. However, with the exception of North Korea, which remained completely beyond Obama's ability to influence during his entire presidency, Obama was fairly successful at containing the regional crisis more or less. Armistices in Ukraine and Syria kept the conflict from boiling over, but a refusal to accept al-Assad's brutal regime produced further tension with Russia that raised real concerns about a post-ISIL Iraq and Syria in 2017. The situation when Obama left office was very tense, but not yet a terminal crisis and there were real signs of improvement- the impending victory over ISIL for example. On the other hand, the crisis in Yemen and Ukraine were beginning to accelerate until we reached the situation today, where there are military crisis in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Ukraine and now North Korea all running simultaneously.
Obama's abuses of power, namely the expansion of the government surveillance program, backfired as it produced increases in organized crime, cyberwarfare, and capitalist excesses. Obama was never able to completely close Guantanamo bay for political reasons, however he did curtail enhanced interrogation which he had promised to achieve. Trump pulled the US out of the Paris agreement and did not implement the TPP trade agreement, which would have been major, landmark, aspects of Obama's legacy had Hillary Clinton won the election. On the otherhand, Obamacare has survived and remains the only significant attempt at Health Care reform in American for several decades. I think mainly the catastrophic political crisis in the Middle East, North Africa, Eastern Europe and the Asian Pacific have made the second term of Obama's presidency stand out over the first, although this distorts the significance of the first term. The world of 2012 was far more stable and secure than the world four years later. But again, Obama was only able to operate with a "free hand" for the two first years of his presidency, and the political opposition he received was significant once the House had been lost.
The concepts "WAR" and "PROGRESS" are now obsolete.