Obama's legacy – hits and misses

Thangkhokai Haokip *

President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama :: Wikipedia/Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

The defeaning chants of four more years by the audience during his farewell speech couldn't have come without his ever highest approval rating of 57 percent in his second term in the White House. This rating equals former President Bill Clinton's while it is much higher than that of his predecessor George Bush's 40 percent.

The first black president of the US is set to leave office, after two full terms of 8 years, more popular than he was a few years ago. After the Democrates lost control of the Senate in December 2014, he was viewed favourably by just 41 percent. Barely a week ramains for the new dispensation, Obama's popularity soars among the Americans due to his personality traits but his Democatic party is weaker than it was 8 years ago to protect his legacy.

The biggest jolt to President Obama came when the American voters picked business tycoon and billionaire Donald Trump to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the next US President. The loss of Ms Clinton has been more of a defeat to Obama and his team, given the strong campaign and exercise put out by him while keeping aside the role of Kremlin in the alleged hacking of Democratic National Committe (DNC) and leaked emails to WikiLeaks.

On economy

On the economic front, despite the lows in some key metrics like the Federal debt, GDP growth rate, Health costs etc, Trump is advantaged to inherit an economy which is comparatively more stable than it was when Obama took the office in Jan.20, 2009.

According to Breibart news data, the unemployment rate which was 7.6 % in January 2009 has been now decreased to 4.6 % in December 2016. On the other hand, the nominal median income of household in 2009 was $ 50,000. This has now increased to $ 57,616. The American economy was at its worst at that time due to the great economic recession that led to losses of 8.4 millions job in the US labor market in 2008-9.

Diplomatic legacies

Iran-nuclear deal

In July 2015, under the leadership of President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, the P5+1 and Iran finally reached a nuclear deal to stop Iran's nuclear program after a hard fought and deliberation over the years. Under the deal, Iran's Uranium stockpile will be reduce by 98 % i.e from 10,000 kg to 300 kg for 15 years. Iran now is allowed to enriched Uranium to 3.67 % for power purpose only, which is not enough to make nuclear bomb. This strategic deal was followed by lifting of economic sanction by the US and the European Union.

This landmark deal is strategically important and significant for both the US and the geo-politics of the Middle East. A nuclear Iran will become more aggressive through the expansion of nuclear arsenal which will further destabilise the already tense order in the Middle East. US allies in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain etc are already facing the heat of Iran's aggresive regional policy and thus in the long term, a nuclear Iran could hurt the US interests and regional peace.

Second, Iran has been known for its state sponsorship of terrorism such as Hamas, Hezbollah through operational and financial support. Nulear arsenal landing in the wrong hand like the Islamist extremists groups will be a grave threat to the west and world peace.

Third and more importantly, Iran developing a nuclear bomb will lead to a bipolar nuclear power in the Middle East with Israel on the other end. This will further deteriorate the security scenario in the region and nuclear war can erupt any time in the midst of hostility and constant conflicts. Nuclear Iran pose a grave threat to Israel as single nuclear bomb could destroy the whole of Israel due to its small territorial size. This theory has been most often postulated by Iranian leaders towards their hostile enemy state Israel.

Thus, President Obama successfully thwarted and averted the Israelis master plan to crush Iranian nuclear program unitarally through an air strike though question remains on the way forward after 15 years. If that ever happens, the world will experience a new order.

Killing of Osama Bin Laden

The popularity and favorability of Obama have soars in the aftermath of Killing America's number one hitlist Osama Bin Laden on May 2, 2011 in Abbotabad, Pakistan. Operation GERONIMO had finally delivered justice to thousands of lives loss in the twin tower attacked. This operation has been order by President Obama and it will form a key part of his legacy in US history.

US-Cuba rapproachment

What could be termed as the last remaining pillar of cold war, the US under President Obama officially restored the diplomatic relations between the two nations for the first time since 1961. The key involvement of Pope Francis and the Vatican diplomats in the normalisation of the relation has been very significant in restoring peace and understanding between the two nation. President Obama called the rapproacment as a " historic step forward " and stressed that the progress in the relation is a demonstration that the two countries shouldn't be imprisoned by the past.

The elephant in the room, which is lifting of the trade embargo is still in the process and the White House had repeatedly urged the Congress to act on this as the later can only take this step forward. For the first time, the US in last October abstained from the UN vote to lift US trade embargo against Cuba. This rapproachment will form the key part of Obama's legacy although what President-elect Donald Trump calls in the future and the argument of the Republicans that Cuba should be made to offer more concessions in the realms of human rights, remains to be seen.

Paris Climate deal

Hailing the climate deal as a "historic deal" to protect the planet earth for future generations, Obama go to the extent of evading the Senate to enter into the Paris Climate accord. The ground breaking deal was given its final shape and force when Obama and Xi Xinping despite several diversion and conflicts in many policy areas ratified the deal in last November.

This reflects the commitment of Obama towards protecting the planet earth by way of setting a goal to cut the US emission between 26 to 28 percent by 2025 compared to 2005 level. Further, the significant part is that China with its burgeoning economy and increasing appetite for cheap energy has agreed to peak its emission by 2030 as a self imposed ( voluntary ) deadline.

President-elect Donald Trump statement that climate change is a " hoax " and " a very very expensive form of tax" and threaten to cancel the deal is yet another contentious issue which remains to be seen. It is expected that the importance of climate deal and the urge to support the deal by former UN Secretary General Baan Ki-Mon to Trump will bear good. Further, Trump latest comment that he have "an open mind to it( climate deal ) " should be taken as good indication of favoring the deal.

Trans Pacific Partnership ( TPP )

Purported to be the largest regonial trade bloc in history, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is the hallmark of Obama administration. The trade bloc consists of 12 nations along the Pacific Rims contributing 40 percent of world's GDP an one third of world trade. According to Financial times, TPP serves as a backbone of US in the annual Asia Pacific Economic (APEC) summit.

President-elect Trump has stated during his campaign that he will not let the deal happen once he assumes office citing possible loss of American jobs and competitive wages apart from compromising national sovereignty. His protective policies have been seen by other TPP countries as a road block to the deal. TPP needs the ratification of all 12 nations for it to come into force.

The fact is that TPP deal is seen more by the Obama administration as a diplomatic guns more than an enonomic issue, aim at cornering China in the Pacific region. This has been clear when he defended it by saying that he treated the deal as a priority. With the uncertainties surrounding the future calls of Trump, most nations in the deal have begun to be sway by other regional trade bloc under China such as Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership ( RCEP ). This will give China more space and flexibility in the region.

Will Trump trumps TPP?
Final game

The aggressiveness of Russia towards NATO allies in Europe in the aftermath of annexing Crimea got a strong response from Obama in his final days in office. On 12th January, 2017, President Obama landed thousands of US troops in Russia's doorstep Poland as a measures to calm it allies in the region. This led to Moscow branding the move as a threat to " internal security and national interests ".

Given the pro-Russia approach of Trump and its camaradie with Putin, troops deployment has been branded by critics both within and outside as an attempt to lock Trump into strategy. It is interesting to observe what Trump, who is considered as highly critical to NATO, will give shape to Washington – Moscow equation in the midst of increasing mistrust and distrust between the two nation.

Barely into 9 months in office, President Obama got Noble Peace Prize for his policy of peace and harmony – the support for nuclear disarmament, the willingness and respect to work with other nations, his strong effort towards climate change and his promotion for human rights and democracy. What really reflects his personality can be gauge well from his speech in Oslo while accepting the Noble prize.

He said, "Throughout history, the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it's also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes ". "And that is why I will accept this award as a call to action – a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st century." This indeed is a strong words and go along to shaped his way to leave the office with many promising legacies. Successfully wounding up US invasion of Iraq, pulling out troops from Afghanistan etc are his effort apart from others already mentioned. Further President Obama is the first US President to talked of 'Global Zero' – to completely eliminate nuclear weapons, although the implementation is a matter of diplomacy and its need for global action.

His close relationship with Vice-President Joe Biden and between the two families over the years in White House have became evermore clear when Obama presented him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, during a White House ceremony. President Obama called him, "the best ever vice-presient America has ever had".

Joyful tears pooled the eyes of Joe. Notwithstanding some low performance and the failure to deliver on some key promises such as closing camp Guantánamo Bay, eradicating the world of nuclear weapons and ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Obama walked extra mile during his presidentship and cemented himself to become a great statesment as was seen in his farewell speech. Indeed, ' he will be missed ', quoting the World media!

* Thangkhokai Haokip wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on January 26, 2017.

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