Obama: A Legacy Of Abject Failure

January 2nd, 2017 | M. Menuck
obama failure
And that is it. In a few weeks Barack Obama will cease to be President of the United States of America. His successor, President-elect Donald J. Trump, will likely prove to be as different to him as summer is to winter and has already indicated he shall reverse much of what the outgoing occupant of the Oval Office has accomplished over the last eight years. It is worth pondering what legacy soon-to-be former President Obama shall leave behind.

He shall likely be remembered fondly in personal terms, as is indicated by the higher than usual approval ratings he holds for a two-term president about to finish his time in office, and he is deserving of that at least. However, most of his diehard opponents liked to paint him as an enemy of liberty and a clear and present danger to America's future, President Obama can be credited as a personally decent man whose motivations, whatever can be said of him, were always good. His eight years as Commander-in-Chief featured no tawdry marital affairs or incidents of gross skullduggery in the mode of Richard Nixon; his legacy will not be marred by any incidents of personal corruption or unsightly boondoggles. As a man he will be remembered as a loving husband and father of great personal charisma and noble intentions.

Alas, there is little else that can be said of him and his time in office that is positive. Given the high expectations that accompanied the beginning of his Presidency, it was almost inevitable that Obama would come to disappoint in some ways. Too often, however, his promised potential proved to be unfulfilled, as the audacity of hope became but an empty pipe dream. Obama the candidate promised a new bipartisan era that would heal America's divides but the country he leaves as his presidency ends is now more divided than ever. Political polarization is more pronounced than possibly it ever was before.

Blame can be placed at the feet of both sides on this front, but Obama must own his own share of the blame. In his initial years, buoyed by a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress, he made little effort to be conciliatory and rammed through his signature health care reform bill without a single Republican vote. When the Republicans regained control of House in 2014 and later the Senate four years later he made no serious attempts at outreach. Gridlock between a Congress and the White House of budgetary matters did not even elicit an attempt by Obama to find middle ground. When legislative initiatives such as gun control failed to secure the necessary votes to pass Obama descended to moral lecturing and at times outright pouting. Stubbornness was met with stubbornness, and in later years the President increasingly resorted to rule by executive order and weakening of Congressional checks such as the filibuster. With Republicans now hold both the White House, Congress and soon to once again have a majority on the Supreme Court, the now established precedent of "I won" may very well become a nightmare for Democrats of their own making.
Whatever mixed legacy remains of President Obama domestically (the two signature achievements of which - the Affordable Care Act and environmental regulations - are almost certain to be eliminated by the incoming Trump administration) in the realm of foreign policy it is beyond question that he will be remembered as an abject failure. Again, in the name of fairness, it must be acknowledged that the mess left behind by George Bush would have been an immense challenge for any man, but after eight years of his own as the most powerful figure on the global stage, Obama leaves behind a world that is even more unstable and violent than the one he inherited. Overreach and recklessness by his predecessor were replaced by inaction and passivity, and the results were a disaster.

Obama took something of a victory that had been achieved in Iraq and Afghanistan and replaced it with defeat born by the premature withdrawal of American troops for no other reason than a crass political desire to be done with the whole affair and, in the former's case, he facilitated the rise of the Islamic State, possibly the most heinous entity of the twenty-first century. He stood by and did nothing as the Arab Spring destabilized the entire Middle East, and in those cases where he did act, such as Libya, his interventions served only to make matters worse. Iran is now on a clear road to a nuclear weapon, and Turkey - next to Israel possibly America's closest ally in the region - is now under the thumb of a soft-Islamist autocrat who increasingly is joined at the hip with Russia.

In 2012, when Mitt Romney named Russia as the USA's number one geopolitical threat, Obama responded with humorous dismissal only for the joke to be on him in the end as Vladimir Putin proceeded to outplay him on the world stage. Crimea was annexed, Ukraine destabilized into civil war, and today Putin's Russia is increasingly seen as the major player in the Middle East. With an infinitely inferior hand, Putin aptly assumed the role of the player at the poker table who repeatedly went all in knowing Obama would blink and fold his hand leaving the table stakes to him. With an incoming President of America who openly declares a desire for friendlier relations now joining a growing number of Eastern European states in awe of the resurgent Russian Phoenix and its new Tsar in all but name, Mitt Romney can take some cold comfort in knowing that history has proven him right.

Syria will doubtlessly be remembered as the greatest black stain upon Obama's tenure. Under his watch, a rebellion against the Al Assad regime grew into a civil war that killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions more. Red lines were declared and then quietly ignored as they were crossed, as the chlorine gas and barrel bombs of the Damascus regime rained death from above. That Aleppo, the birthplace of the rebellion and the last urban centre held by those rebels not openly aligned with Islamic State, has finally fallen only weeks prior to the forces of Al Assad backed by Russian jets and Iranian militiamen is a poignant symbol. America, for its part, has been reduced in this whole sorry affair to dispatching Obama's UN ambassador to berate Al Assad and his allies with empty declarations of "have you no shame?".

As we say goodbye to Barack Obama, we would be forgiven for accompanying it with a corroding good riddance. His place in history, by virtue of him being the first African American president, is secure. It will be more just, however, if he is remembered for what he truly was: a failure who oversaw the decline of Pax Americana and the descent of the world in chaos.

Winter has come, and it looks to be long and cold.