INNOCENT OR GUILTY? A BALANCE OF OBAMA’S FOREIGN POLICY

by Glauco D’Agostino

This article was an author’s feedback to questions raised on “The Daily Journalist”, Las Vegas, Nevada (USA), and published January 24th, 2016

President Barack Obama with Turkish President Abdullah Gül at a luncheon hosted by U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-Moon at the United Nations, New York, N. Y., Sept. 23rd, 2010 (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)

Quite naturally, it makes no sense to judge the work of a ruling politician as totally good or bad, especially if he’s the most influential man on Earth. Since I’m not a US citizen, I will avoid making judgments on the Administration domestic policy over the past seven years (Health Care Reform, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Wall Street Reform, enhancement of gays and lesbians conditions, nomination of the first Hispanic woman at the US Supreme Court), focusing, instead, on US role as the sole leading world power, and on the effects over regional arrangements, both designed and implemented by their major player, President Obama, in fact. I will leave aside, too, American parties propagandistic positions, completely aimed at the presidential campaign, and designed to deal with an internal public opinion notoriously not interested to address issues of broad international scope and castled on potential direct economic advantages that may arise to individuals from White House public policies.

As a general observation, I think Obama’s international attitude, even amid a thousand inconsistencies, has been marked by multilateralism and cooperation, reversing a trend imposed by his predecessor Bush, entirely addressed to determine a superpower volition, with no effort of inclusion and involvement (even of the allies) in Washington decision-making. It’s a reversal of a will for military intervention, which had, sure, cheer the lobbies of arms and had benefited the US in terms of GDP growth borne by the public purse, just the opposite of ideologically trumpeted liberal policies and a natural result whenever a government is aimed to solve inside economic problems through the war tool.

This theoretically positive consideration is still about Obama’s intentions, and certainly does not automatically absolve him with respect to the US foreign policy driving. An end-term assessment (which is not yet finalized) can be made on an eight-year work, and anyway on the basis of the expressed purposes achievement. And it seems to me Mr. Obama had these goals among others:

  • Fighting the effects of the “Great Recession” in global markets, which began in 2007-08 right in the USA;
  • Ending the US occupation in Iraq;
  • Destroying al-Qā’ida;
  • A new relationship with the Muslim world, till then having seen as an unyielding foe according to a “clash of civilizations”, theorized and skillfully exaggerated by the Project for the New American Century of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney.

In addition, multilateralism and cooperation concepts did offer a glimpse of opening to an appeasement policy with regard to Latin America and Asian-Pacific area.

Prior to check the effects (positive or negative, depending on points of view) induced by these policies and especially to detect who have brought back benefits, we must note down that:

  • The “Great Recession” (still shunned by China and India) has not resulted in destructive and generally destabilizing effects;
  • Iraq has regained its (however weak) institutions, formally not depending by the US;
  • Al-Qā’ida has been resized after the alleged bin Lādin’s elimination;
  • The way the Muslim world is perceived is considerably more conscious in terms of its religious and cultural role and its relevance at the international political level;
  • The Monroe Doctrine to Latin America has come to an end, as stated by Obama himself less than a year ago in Panama.

That said, the fact remains that:

  • The effects of market financial crisis are overcome in the US, but continue to deeply plague most of the European countries and still affect the resilience of Asian-Pacific countries. As a result, the international coordination Obama had legitimately headed using G-20 and IMF tools might correctly be regarded as insufficient;
  • Newly independent Iraq currently reflects gross errors made during and after its invasion by the “Western”-led coalition against Ṣaddām Ḥusayn (once our beloved ally), leaving the court to new Islamic State entity onset;
  • Radical Islam was certainly not only performed by bin Lādin’s pretensions (once our beloved ally), but a 150-years-long phenomenon, well rooted in the Middle East and North Africa history as a structured and complex thinking, not simply to be banned as a temporary and localized criminal event, but to be studied, understood, dealt with diplomatic arms, and only since to be possibly condemned and uprooted using methods just as violent. Obama had the merit of acknowledging that military intervention is not always conclusive in solving so deeply consolidated problems and that another strategy was appropriate. Analysts must keep wondering for the coming years (standing this approach unchanged in next President desire) how much this new strategy (if any) has worked, since results of foreign policy are gauged in future projections, certainly not on short-term basis just because an election campaign is opening;
  • Obama’s insufficient support to Islamic democracy attempts has generated ambivalent feelings in those who had believed it and had invested their political future in: on one side, moderate people have been disillusioned with, and realized that Western world rhetoric calls for democracy quickly crash (as usual!) facing geo-political and business logic, so, better to stay at home; on the other, the most extremist ones have begun thinking about the hypocrisy of the assumption that a Western model gives everyone the same opportunities, because they perceive a free election is not accepted when the winner is not the “right” one (see the examples of 1992 Algeria, 2006 Palestine, and, latest and dramatic, 2012 Egypt). Basically, their feeling is that the Western world is not convinced, yet, even under Obama’s ruling, that democracy is better (as it claims) than a relentless Sīsī-like dictatorship, which may ensure a docile submission and simultaneously an effective elimination of “dangerous” political forces. So, better to rely on an armed struggle.

However, in a wider perspective, there is no doubt that President Obama has gathered two clear achievements of his foreign policy, by opening to two countries deemed to be historical US opponents: the Islamic Republic of Iran and Cuba. It’s evident that no ideological reading can be given to this willingness to discuss, since the prior has a quasi-theocratic rule, and the latter a communist regime. Such an evidence may bother both rightists and leftists, conservatives and liberals, but their respective supporters should realize the obsolescence of their nineteenth-century outdated conceptions.

After having tightened sanctions against Iran earlier this decade, the US President has completely reversed his attitude, by inaugurating a slow diplomatic approach to Tehrān, on the one hand forcing the Āyatollāhs to a tougher control on their nuclear program, but on the other, thus allowing a back on stage of a undisputed player in the Middle Eastern dynamics, without which no credible framework is possible to give the institutions of those countries. This, too, upsets the current supporters of the ancient Cold War sides, since through this step Russia is fully part in the international equilibrium building, as it deserves by history and dimensions. Is this a mistake of US President? It depends on concept of world balance, and, as we already said, Obama bets on multilateralism. Something similar applies to Cuba, when right the agreement with Iran is leaving Castro, Maduro and every Latin American regimes averse to Washington the blunt weapon of any Tehrān-backed political blackmails.

Conversely, among the unresolved issues, Obama certainly may include:

  • The use of drones to perform extrajudicial executions targeting individuals, in full continuity with the Bush era and even up compared to the latter. Apart from moral considerations and violations of international law by a Nobel Prize for Peace, we must remember that such actions have resulted in recent years in a killing of hundreds of defenseless civilians reportedly involved in combat;
  • The issues of closing Guantánamo Bay detention camps, the infamous prison where, in defiance of Constitution and international laws, arbitrary detentions have been carried out and tortures and other atrocities alleged by the international community were perpetrated. Spite of Obama’s desire and efforts, this lager is still running;
  • The Afghanistan “affaire”, following a few months ago statement about an extension of US presence in the country, which de facto belied the Resolute Support Mission premises (even by the alleged White House authorization to the extension of US missions against the Tālibān), and also belied Obama’s promises during the election campaign leading him to the Presidency;
  • The Palestinian issue, actually ousted from the White House Agenda, a tribute to the special partnership US maintain with Israel and its lobbies, despite Obama-Netanyahu relationship has deteriorated due to the opening Washington made to Tehrān and because of a Jewish State obduracy in extending the illegal occupation plan in the territories under PNA jurisdiction. It should also be recalled that, under Obama’s Administration, the US has opposed the recognition of the State of Palestine, and vetoed any UN resolution granting it;
  • The issue of Africa as a whole. Following the 90’s disastrous military intervention in Somalia, with a complete disintegration of its State, the US military has been back in Africa by the operation against Mu‘ammar Qaddāfī, once more with a complete disintegration of his State, in the likeness of Somali and Iraqi situations. One would say, it’s a lack of ability to handle post-conflict situations after having bombed, and an incapacity to identify the bearing structures of a State other than the American’s, while claiming, however, of safeguarding the interests of “freed” people. This failure is not to be charged to Obama, it pretty looks a historical flaw of US administrations, completely biased towards a post-conflict reconstruction managing.

Ultimately, is Obama innocent or guilty?, capable or incapable? A Head of State of that relevance unlikely can get a unanimous opinion on his actions. Here we have tried to single out a few meaningful effects of his foreign policy. Historians will give the related verdict. In a year, a new President will decide whether to emulate or abhor his work, or, more, whether, as it seems fair and fateful, acting in continuity with the ambiguity typical of a great power!

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