Obama Floats Like A Butterfly In World Opinion – by M K Bhadrakumar
A VIEW FROM AN INDIAN COMMENTATOR
Pew Research Centre’s latest survey gives a flattering rating for President Barack Obama. He stands head and shoulders above his peer group in other world capitals — Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin, Ji Jinping, etc.
That is, except for India, where Obama’s rating (58%) fares poorly with the ravishing rating his distinguished predecessor George W. Bush enjoyed. (But then, India’s bizarre rating speaks more about our elites’ mindset.)
What accounts for Obama’s popularity?
‘Popularity’ is an inchoate concept, to begin with. What makes someone ‘popular’? To my mind, in this case, there was certain inevitability insofar as Obama came to the White House after Bill Clinton and Bush Jr. His image and reputation is untarnished by sleaze and venality – and, on the contrary, he is precociously cerebral and focused and seems to have wonderful human qualities.
In any case, we all love underdogs, don’t we? Well, he was genuinely one – starting from his middle name ‘Hussein’. Plus, he was an African-American to boot, and his lower middle class background, and his familiarity with life, ‘red in tooth and claw’, in impoverished regions of the planet. How could someone who experienced deprivation be a bad human being?
It is always thrilling to witness an underdog take on the Establishment – and goes on to win. The two books he wrote (which I read during his 2008 campaign) – Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope – were both ‘unputdownable’ and guaranteed to win admirers far and wide.
However, when the final countdown begins – with just about 4 months remaining before Obama becomes a ‘lame duck’ – the assessment of him must be unemotional.
Plainly put, he has been a disappointment. And I will explain why.
Coming from this part of the world, South Asia, I had great expectations that he would redeem his pledge to end the Afghan war, a bloody war that began as fratricidal strife and with which my own heart and mind got entangled first some 37 years ago.
But Obama is leaving behind unfinished business. And, worse still, he is leaving the initiative in the hands of the US military – which is always a very, very dangerous scenario.
Unless the next American president is of an exceptional calibre with superhuman grit and dexterity and close familiarity with the ruthless exercise of political power to overrule the military-industrial complex in the USA (which is next to impossible), this war is fated to continue, and may even become bloodier.
It makes a shameful legacy for Obama.
Again, there is no other way to put it other than that Obama must be held responsible (in varying degrees) for the destruction of three countries, which didn’t deserve such cruel fate – Libya, Syria and Ukraine.
He may have played his part ‘efficiently’, without significant loss of American lives – except in Benghazi, perhaps – but an accomplice cannot be absolved of the moral responsibility for the crime.
Again, Obama was fond of swearing his faith in America’s ‘exceptionalism’ but in practice he was cold-bloodedly focused on his country’s self-interests. He did have his priorities cut out – America’s reconstruction or recovery or rejuvenation, call it what you will. That was understandable.
But then, he saw things in the world at large also through the prism of his priorities – ‘What’s there in it for the USA?’ ‘How many jobs can it create in our economy?’ ‘Will it give our chaps greater market access?’
However, Obama is a gifted politician and he could exude charm and affability if he wanted to, and stoop to conquer even stony hearts if it served US interests. Remember the ride he gave our Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Beast?
Naturally, Europeans got put off by him, and Obama came to be known for his ‘aloofness’. He had little time for them except when he had to transact business.
What is his legacy as a world leader?
Importantly, Obama didn’t start new wars. It is the road not taken that makes him exceptional. We simply ought to forgive him for not ending the old wars the USA started — although he could have tried harder.
Second, he decided to engage with Iran over the nuclear issue rather than continue to manipulate the contrived issue to ‘contain’ that country for geopolitical ends.
Three, he was realistic enough to admit the failure of the USA decades-old containment policy against Cuba.
But the list on the negative side is much heavier. Obama did nothing to engage North Korea, and the regional tensions in Northeast Asia may have served the USA regional strategies.
Most certainly, Obama dissimulated the ‘reset’ with Russia, while practically continuing with the policy of ‘selective engagement’ riveted on the containment strategy expounded by the neoconservatives in the USA establishment.
Obama professed interest in disarmament but his actual record in nuclear weapon build-up and development of even deadlier weapons and the militarization of outer space remains highly controversial.
He promised the Russians he’d review the missile defence system once re-elected for a second term as president, but did exactly the opposite.
Again, the rebalance strategy in Asia is a barely-disguised attempt to retain the USA regional hegemony. And it fuelled tensions and militarization of the region.
Obama displays the cold-war era ‘bloc mentality’. If by driving up tensions over Ukraine, he brilliantly asserted the USA transatlantic leadership, quintessentially, his strategy in Asia has not been dissimilar – Even the raison d’être of the Trans-Pacific Partnership ultimately boils down to ‘be-with-us-or-against-us’.