Obama Presidency: A Mixed Legacy – Analysis


By Md. Afroz*

The Obama administration has successfully completed its second term in the White House. These two terms in office were never easy for President Barack Obama. He inherited two long costly and unsuccessful wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a more radicalised and hostile anti-American world, a weakening economy and troubled domestic politics.

Unlike his predecessor, Obama came to the White House with promises of ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, rebuilding the American economy and guaranteed social justice to the minorities.

The first elected Black President of the US created high expectations among the minorities and other marginalised classes but the result turned to be opposite. The obstructionist attitude of Congress also placed hurdles in front of many of his policies.

The early days of Obama’s tenure witnessed one of the worst economic crises in the history of the US since 1929. The collapse of the stock market, crisis in the area of housing, financial and industrial sectors broke the morale of the government. Unemployment rates soared sky-high. Many believe it was also one of the main reasons for the election of Democrats in the White House.

Obama initiated many measures and recovery plans to curb the growing recession and debt crisis. He injected around $800 billion into the various sectors to rescue the American economy from the verge of collapse.

Federal assistance extensively to the car or motor industry protected many jobs in the United States. The symbol of capitalist might and US industrial power General Motors was also on the verge of bankruptcy. The Obama administration nationalised (partially) the General Motors and saved thousands of jobs of fellow Americans. Gradually, Obama brought the American economy back on its feet.

Another major initiative by his administration was to provide medical insurance to the 20 million American citizens. Despite strong opposition from the Republicans, he successfully implemented the Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare”. It was intended to improve health insurance quality and affordability for the deprived sections of American society.

Obama also implemented many provisions of Dream Act, especially related to children and youngsters and stopped deportation of many undocumented individuals.

During his first term in office, Obama cared very little about gay community or same-sex marriages issues, but as he geared up for re-election in 2012, he came out in support of same-sex marriage. When the Supreme Court ruled in favour of same-sex marriage, he welcomed it by calling it “a victory for America”.

In terms of failures, he failed to put a legal cap on American gun culture. The strongest American lobby National Rifle Association defeated all the measures initiated by the government to curb the proliferation of arms.

He also failed to close Guantanamo Bay as promised to his voters. Surprisingly, during his tenure, racial attacks reached the highest in recent past. Many black American took to the streets against the racial violence and atrocities against the other minorities. Obama failed to provide a sense of security to the minorities.

On the foreign policy level also, the Obama administration has had mixed experiences. Obama came to office with the promise of ending the two most expensive wars of American history, Iraq and Afghanistan.

He ended the wars but without any proper solution which resulted in catastrophe, especially in Iraq. Continued drone attacks on civilian targets, in AF-PAK region, brought international criticism and cast doubt on his government’s intention to wage War on Terror.

His Cairo speech on US-Muslim relations in 2009 was intended to bring confidence in the Muslim world but it evaporated soon. Obama’s response to Arab Spring was very inconsistent and confusing. He abandoned one of the best US allies, Hosni Muabarak of Egypt, during the revolution, ignored Islamist President Mohamed Morsi and remained silent over the military coup of army chief General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

In Libya, the US actively participated in NATO-led military actions against the Muammar Gaddafi regime.

The situation became worse than ever and further strengthened the extremist forces providing them with fertile ground to breed.

During the early days of the Syrian uprising, Obama remained aloof. His support to the armed opposition created a very confusing situation. Inappropriate response to the Syrian crisis created a monster like ISIS or Islamic State.

An historical initiative by Obama was to end the more than three-decade-long international isolation of Iran by signing a nuclear deal through a bilateral agreement which included P5+1 members (permanent UN members + Germany).

He also re-established relations with Cuba and visited Havana, for the first time by any US president since 1928.

Relations with Israel remained unpleasant due to his support to normalisation of US-Iranian ties. The two had very substantive differences over the Palestinian issue, settlements in West Bank etc. although Obama signed military aid for 10 years totalling $3.8 billion per year to Israel.

Obama failed to control the Russian aggression of Ukraine over the Crimean issue. It created uncertainty among the European countries over the reliability of the US for European security. Relations with Russia remained hostile throughout his tenure in the White House.

The Chinese aggression in South China Sea continued. US allies in Asia also began to have less faith in the US to safeguard their territorial security. Japan started looking for other alternatives, including raising a national army.

Overall, the Obama presidency remained very difficult and witnessed many significant changes around the globe.

America’s limited military action in Pakistan to eliminate Osama bin Laden boosted the morale of American citizens but soon the Islamic State emerged and threatened lives in America and Europe.

The United States will continue to struggle with the issues of terrorism, inflation and domestic turbulence in the near future. The challenge for the new government is to analyse the failure of the Obama regime on both domestic and foreign level and continue to work where it left.

*Md. Afroz is a research scholar of International Relations at the Centre for West Asian Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. Earlier, he was a South Asia Foundation Fellow at Pondicherry University. He can be reached at [email protected]

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