As the US Presidential Elections 2016 draw closer, we take a look at the legacy of the 44th President of the United States Barack Obama. Obama’s two tenures as president have been a sinusoidal story where major reforms came in for acclaim as well as stark criticism. Either of Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton or Republican runner Donald Trump will be elected the 45th POTUS and it is important to analyse what the new executive head of the US will inherit as Obama’s legacy.
Obama’s presidency was a change from the regular conservatives against liberals or their Right vs Left fight prevalent in US politics over the last three-odd decades. He will be remembered for being more than just the first African-American President.
The election lines previously drawn between left-right have blurred and both candidates are mired in controversy in one form or another. President Obama, on the other hand, prepares to leave office sans any scandals pre-presidency or during his tenure. His approval ratings of over 55 per cent just before vacating office are surprisingly high, challenging popular former presidents like Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. Fiscal deficit decrease and the steady rise in American GDP with substantial drop in unemployment rates have been a plus for Obama. He has also struggled with a never seen before obstructionist GOP in the House and Senate that has, like any cynical opposition, sought to block most ameliorative policies introduced by the executive head.
Watch What Else is Making News
Obama made truce with Cuba after tense decades with the Caribbean country which had once almost become the launchpad of a US-Russia nuclear war. The US has still to give up its notorious military base in Cuba–Guantanamo Bay.
Obama led the charge for a global climate accord Paris Agreement to be signed with near unanimity by the 190 nations at COP 21 summit in Paris. Republicans have always disputed the global warming theory claiming that it is designed to keep American industries from expanding while developing countries enjoy a buffer period to grow their economies.
His trademark Obama Care health legislation was taken to legal battlegrounds but he was able to push it through. Under Obama, LGBTQ rights and gay marriage legalisation saw massive support from the federal government. Following a spree of incidents where minority members, policemen, students, children etc were shot dead in the open by commonly available assault guns and rifles, Obama campaigned against weak gun laws. Despite the Republican majority Senate blocking his bid to review gun regulations and making them more stringent he has remained vocal about it and his aim is being carried forward by Hillary Clinton in her list of campaign promises.
The first year of Obama’s presidency was hit hard by the recession and close to four million Americans lost their jobs–a statistic that was continuously used by leaders like Republican Majority Leader of the Senate Mitch McConnell to pull down Obama’s approval ratings. Afghanistan and Iraq were also two international expeditionary war crises inherited from the Bush campaign that Obama struggled to contain and hundreds more of US troops lost their lives till the time the Nobel Peace Prize winner Obama was able to recall the US army troops in considerable numbers from the countries. The award was conferred on him just months into his first presidency. However, the war has continued to rage in both the countries albeit with a fainter US foot trails.
From 2009 till now, America’s GDP has grown from over $14 trillion to well over $18 trillion. The troops in Afghanistan and Iraq have decreased from 38,350 and 141,300 to 8730 and 3550, respectively. The US economy is still in a recuperative stage and seems to periodically jump with unprecedented easing of the US monetary policy. The recovery has been shaky despite the sizeable fiscal stimulus and the massive international debt of nearly $20 trillion has left the US economy is a stage where runners like Trump are only able to cough up solutions like isolation of China (who he accuses of regularly devaluing its currency) and defaulting on the debt (since nobody can outmuscle uncle sam).
Obama popularly ended to a large extent the opacity in the American government’s functioning. He put the government spending online and ended the media gag on reporting war fatalities. He enforced institutional equal pay for women along with putting restrictive limits of previous white house aides who were now hand in gloves with lobbyists. He closed offshore tax havens, initiated the process to phase out the Guantanamo Bay Prison, ramped up international dialogue for nuclear non-proliferation, ordered the execution order on Osama bin Laden–huge brownie point winner–and ending secret detention facilities run by US agencies worldwide.
Obamacare–Obama’s self proclaimed revolutionary healthcare programme–was criticised, despite ensuring high quality medical health care to low income families, for being unbalanced and unfair to a large section of the high earners or fair earners and those who barely miss the federal poverty limit as they will not be exempt from tax complexities and mandatory health coverage. He, however, pushed through with it.
George Bush was ostracised internationally for his unilateral foreign policy. Obama’s reforms to amend the damage done by Bush and reestablish the US’ image by fostering stronger and healthier (not essentially unilateral) ties with partner nations transformed him as a domestically and internationally adored leader. His strong family man projection endeared him with the working class and the working middle class.
The loss sustained by the treasury and the blood of soldiers proved that the promise of revival was not enough to bring the country back from the deep abyss it was heading into. Tackling the great recession was one of President Obama’s biggest challenges.
In places like the Middle East and north Africa, under President Obama, US led from the wings and kept its partners centre stage carrying the burden of its operational interests. The parochial nature of its European partner countries who were mired with economic slowdowns, security predicaments and social fallouts reduced the US’ influence in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Iran was also made to shut down ‘shady’ nuclear operations.
China and Russia, ruled by firebrand leaders Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping were tough cookies for Obama to handle and the cookie still hasn’t crumbled. In fact, its shadow has been glooming over the US elections over the past year and half.
One of the most prominent feature of Obama’s presidency was his ‘Pivot to Asia’. American foreign policy for the first time recognised that Asia will become the new centre of power and international action in almost all respects and American interests in the region need to be strengthened well in time.
Ordering the execution of Osama bin Laden was another act that boosted his acceptability. However, Syria is another blemish on his record. The American govt naively armed rebels against the Bashar Al Assad regime but refused to intervene with footsoldiers. Partial intervention destabilised the region further with eventually the extremists gaining more strength, rebels losing it, ISIS raising its head again, a renewed international military standoff with Russia that risks turning into a war and near genocidal deaths in the Iraq, Turkey and Syria region due to failed foreign policy in the region.
Obama’s legacy will take a few more years to play out as all the actions will show their impact by the time the next president is well into their first term. However, he has managed to win the hearts of the people in the US and outside and will go down as one of the most popular US presidents till date.