Obama, world will miss you

Barack Obama’s presidency will be remembered as much for its solid achievements, which were achieved against all odds, as for its many disappointments. His rise to the presidency itself was an accomplishment. Here was a man with a ‘funny’ sounding name; a first name that was Hebrew, Hussein as a middle name, and a surname that rhymed with Osama. His name itself was a put-off in post-9/11 America. Added to that was the fact that he is Black. Still, he overcame prejudice and broke the racial barrier to become the 44th president of the United States’ and its first African-American president ever. On the domestic front, Obama was successful in pulling the US out of its worst economic crisis ever; his measures provided a shot in the arm to the automobile industry, stabilised the financial system and put the US economy back on track. In 2010, he signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, a giant step towards providing healthcare to millions of uninsured Americans and reining in the soaring cost of medical treatment. These achievements are all the more spectacular given what Obama inherited from his predecessor, George W Bush – an economy in recession, a country that was deeply polarised at home and reviled abroad. Besides, his every initiative was countered by a Republican-controlled Congress. Obama’s presidency was an abject failure in tackling political polarisation and racism in the US.

On the foreign policy front, Obama’s outreach to Cuba revolutionised relations between the two countries. Obama showed that in dealing with Iran, dialogue and diplomacy are far more fruitful. Tough negotiations resulted in a landmark nuclear deal that resulted not only in ending Iran’s economic isolation but also reduced the possibility of war with Iran. Obama campaigned on the promise of ending the US’ wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Indeed, he did bring back American troops but these countries remain convulsed in violence. Besides, the Obama presidency started new wars in countries like Libya and Syria. The al-Qaeda may be a much weaker force today but Obama’s policies abroad did contribute to the emergence of the deadlier Islamic State group. The use of drones in warfare, which was begun by Bush, accelerated under Obama.

As Obama prepares to leave the White House, there is concern that his achievements in the areas of healthcare and education may not last long, as they are likely to be erased by his successor, Donald Trump. The stature he gave to the American presidency too is unlikely to survive. He and his family brought a quiet dignity and decency to the White House. His leadership will be missed especially in the context of what lies ahead.

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