No 1723 Posted by fw, July 11, 2016
“After a double mandate in the White House, it can be demonstrated that President Barack Obama’s legacy is indeed very slight, if not net negative. Let us look more closely, beginning with the positive side of President Obama’s legacy, and following with the severe failures of his administration. The list of favorable actions by the Obama administration is not very long. There is, however, a longer list of policies that belie many of Barak Obama’s promises and the expectations he created when he ran for president in 2008.” —Rodrigue Tremblay
In this abridged repost, Rodrigue Tremblay, emeritus professor of economics at the Université de Montréal, looks beyond the words, which so impressed the Canadian ruling class gathered in Parliament recently, to critically examine the deeds of US president Barack Obama and finds them lacking.
As you read Tremblay’s blistering critique of Obama’s legacy, keep in mind the following small sample of the president’s rose-colored view of the world, as taken from his speech to Parliament —
That’s the fiction. Now read the facts.
The focus of this repost is on Obama’s “severe failures”: the added subheadings will facilitate skim-reading and search for connections between Obama’s words to Parliament and his actual actions in office. To read Tremblay’s complete, very long essay, click on the following linked title.
A look at the “severe failures” of Obama’s administration
That is why, after a double mandate in the White House, it can be demonstrated that President Barack Obama’s legacy is indeed very slight, if not net negative. Let us look more closely, beginning with the positive side of President Obama’s legacy, and following with the severe failures of his administration.
The list of favorable actions by the Obama administration is not very long. There is, however, a longer list of policies that belie many of Barack Obama’s promises and the expectations he created when he ran for president in 2008.
Obama increased the US president’s discretionary powers to wage wars
One would have thought that newly elected President Barack Obama, in a democratic spirit, would have attempted to reverse this dangerous move toward turning the U.S. presidency into an initiator of foreign wars. Unfortunately, President Barack Obama did the reverse, increasing rather than reducing the president’s discretionary powers to wage wars.
Nobel Peace Laureate Obama continued to make the US less of a ‘republic’ and more an “empire”
Indeed, Nobel Peace Laureate Obama didn’t waste any time in arguing that he had, as U.S. president, the authority to wage war in Iraq, in Syria, in Libya, or elsewhere, without U.S. Congress’s approval, contending that previous so-called ‘use of force congressional authorizations’ remain in effect indefinitely. Indeed, President Obama claimed, just as President George W. Bush had done before him, that the broad ‘Authorization for use of Military Force’ on terror (AUMF) passed by Congress after Sept. 11, 2001, and the 2002 ‘Authorization to use Military Force’ in Iraq had, in fact, no expiration date and that they authorize an American president to act like an emperor or a king, and to unilaterally use military force or wage war of his own volition.
This is a very serious matter, because if this theory were to be confirmed and entrenched in practice, without a formal constitutional amendment, the precedent would mean that the U.S. Constitution has de facto been pushed aside and the United States has become less of a republic, and more of an empire. (This would tend to confirm the title of my book The New American Empire).
Obama boasts that he has “ordered military action in seven countries”, not a legacy to be proud of
What is more, President Obama has acted aggressively according to his theory of presidential war powers. He has launched eight times as many drone strikes in other countries as did President George W. Bush; and, according to his own boasting, he has “ordered military action in seven countries”. This is not a legacy he should be proud of.
Obama has embraced military solutions to serve neocon ambitions in the Middle East and elsewhere
As far as U.S. involvements in the Middle East are concerned, President Barak Obama did not substantially break away from the neocon-inspired imperial policies of the George W. Bush administration.
It is sometimes argued that president Obama’s decision to withdraw American troops from Iraq, in 2011, marked a break with the previous administration. In fact, the Bush-Cheney administration had already decided on such a withdrawal in 2008, when the Iraqi government refused to grant legal immunity to American troops in that country.
In supervising the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, the Obama administration was simply implementing a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which had previously been signed between the U.S. government and the Iraqi government to that effect. According to the agreement, U.S. combat troops had to be out of Iraq by December 31, 2011.
With one or two exceptions mentioned above (the Iran deal and the normalizing of relations with Cuba), President Obama has not failed to embrace a military solution to serve the neocons’ many narratives in the Middle East and elsewhere.
He has continued the destruction of Iraq, destroyed Libya and Syria, extended military operations in Afghanistan, and abetted Saudi Arabia’s destruction of Yemen
In fact, if it can be said that President George W. Bush destroyed the country of Iraq, President Barack Obama, through his policies and actions, most of the time without the support of Congress, destroyed two other Middle East countries, i.e. Libya and Syria, while extending the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan, and while supporting an embarrassing ally, Saudi Arabia, in destroying Yemen.
Forgotten were Obama’s campaign promises to “change things in Washington”
These countries were no threat to the United States. Even though President Obama received a Nobel Peace Prize, he was no peace president, by a long shot. With his administration, it was really more of the same and a far cry from his campaign promises to “change things in Washington D.C.”
Obama’s administration has relied on covert operations to support and incite foreign mercenaries and Islamist terrorists to overthrow governments
Under the cover of fighting terrorism, and to destabilize, divide and provoke “regime changes” in Libya and in Syria, for example, the United States—but also European countries such as France and the U.K., leading members of NATO—has relied on covert operations to support foreign mercenaries and Islamist groups of terrorists in these countries, giving them arms and logistics support, and inciting them to overthrow the established governments.
These groups, including pro-Israeli neocons, with their mad theory of “constructive chaos, set out to redraw the Middle East
Thanks to the financial assistance given these terrorist groups, especially the self-proclaimed Sunni Islamist State (ISIS), by Sunni countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar or Turkey, the pro-Israeli neocons, who wanted to redraw the Middle East according to their mad theory of “constructive chaos”, have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams, with a devastating international refugee crisis as an extra. Ironically, European countries are, for now, the main victims of the waves of refugees resulting from the politics of chaos.
Chaos in the Middle East is a huge failure for Obama
As the de facto head of NATO, President Barack Obama and his neocon advisers, with the latter’s Manichean* view of the world, must bear a large part of the responsibility for these disastrous results. The chaos in the Middle East is a huge failure for him, even though the neocons in his administration would deem such a manufactured chaos, a success! [*struggle between a good, spiritual world of light, and an evil, material world of darkness].
Indeed, the countries of Iraq, Libya and Syria were considered, to different degrees, to be regional rivals of Israel, besides having large reserves of oil.
Obama followed, in Libya and Syria, Bush’s illegal 2003 Iraq war policy
The destruction of Iraq can be attributed to the Bush-Cheney administration, since they are the politicians who used different subterfuges to launch an illegal war of aggression against that country, on March 20, 2003. However, what is most amazing is the fact that the Obama administration decided to follow the same policy in Libya and in Syria. Sooner or later, Mr. Barack Obama will have to explain why.
The Obama administration has extended the neocon-inspired politics of chaos to Ukraine and Russia, and it has rekindled a Cold War II with Russia
Is Obama’s NATO-led confrontation with Putin an attempt to sabotage Russian-EU relations?
Why has the Obama administration been so anxious to start a New Cold War with Russia? We see here another contradiction between what President Barack Obama says, and what he does. For a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, are an aggressive military encirclement of a country and the sending of military forces to its borders acts of peace or acts of war? Why is Obama doing precisely that to Russia? Why is he risking a nuclear confrontation with Russia? That defies logic.
The only stretch of logic to explain such warmongering is that it is an attempt by the U.S. government to sabotage any economic and political cooperation between Russia and European countries, in order to keep Europe under some sort of an American protectorate.
Why did Obama choose a warmonger as his Secretary of Defense?
Why is President Obama following the neocon plan? Why did he choose Ashton Carter as Secretary of Defense, a known warmonger and the Pentagon’s former chief weapons buyer, who is on record as wanting a military confrontation with Russia?
Was Obama administration’s support of a coup in Ukraine part of a neocon policy to militarize Eastern Europe under cover of NATO?
Let us keep in mind that in February 2014, the Obama administration eagerly jumped at the opportunity to support a coup in Ukraine to overthrow that country’s elected government. It also armed the putchists, and encouraged them to commit atrocities against Ukraine’s ethnic Russian population. Such interference in the affairs of another nation is part of a larger neocon-inspired policy of militarizing Eastern Europe under the cover of NATO.
Even though president Barack Obama promised a nuclear-free world, and pledged, in a speech delivered in Prague, on April 5, 2009, “to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons” and to “reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy”, and again in Hiroshima, on Friday May 27, 2016, his words have not been followed by concrete steps in that direction. Instead, Mr. Obama seemed satisfied to passively pursue the same nuclear “modernization” program that involved the development of a new set of American nuclear weapons, initiated under the previous George W. Bush administration.
On September 30, 2004, then Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, in a debate with President George W. Bush, complained that the Bush administration was “spending hundreds of millions of dollars to research bunker-busting nuclear weapons. The United States is pursuing a new set of nuclear weapons. It doesn’t make sense. You talk about mixed messages. We’re telling other people, ‘You can’t have nuclear weapons,’ but we’re pursuing a new nuclear weapon that we might even contemplate using.”
In a Nuclear Posture Review on April 6, 2010, the Obama administration seemed to echo Mr. Kerry and stated that the United States would “not develop new nuclear warheads or pursue new military missions or new capabilities for nuclear weapons.”
However, President Barack Obama wasted no time in violating his promise of not “developing new nuclear warheads” and of “reducing the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. military strategy”. Instead, he seemingly embarked on the same nuclear program, which had apparently not been stopped at all, to develop an array of new nuclear weapons that made contemplation of their use more acceptable (smaller, more accurate, less lethal), just as the Bush II administration had done before. In other words, Mr. Obama has prepared the United States to get engaged in “small nuclear wars” in the future. This is quite a “legacy”!
The new American nuclear weapon is, as the New York Times has reported, the B61 Model 12, a nuclear bomb tested in Nevada in 2015. This is the first of five new nuclear warhead types planned as part of an American atomic revitalization program budgeted at a cost estimated at $1 trillion over three decades. So much for “a world without nuclear weapons”!
Americans are increasingly aware that there is something fundamentally wrong with its rigged economic system
On Jan. 20, 2014, a Gallup poll found that two-thirds of Americans were dissatisfied with the way income and wealth are distributed in the U.S. —People are therefore vaguely aware that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way the economic system works, and they are right to think that the economy is rigged against the interests of the majority and in favor of special interests.
According to a new Pew Research Center analysis of public data, the American middle class is shrinking, its proportion among U.S. households falling from 55 percent in 2000 to 51 percent in 2014. [N.B.: An American middle class family of two adults and two children, in 2014, is one earning a minimum of $48,083]. This shift has produced a wave of discontent throughout the United States.
Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, on opposite sides of the electoral spectrum, reflect this deep dissatisfaction and even the anger at the economic, financial and taxation policies pursued by the U.S. government and the establishment, over the last thirty years.
Indeed, for the last fifteen years, from 1999 to 2014, the median income of American households globally has declined by 8 percent.
— The median incomes of lower-income families fell by 10 percent during the same period, from $26,373 to $23,811.
– The median income of middle-income households decreased by 6 percent, from $77,898 to $72,919.
– And, reflecting the large inequalities even among upper-income households, the median income in that group also fell by 7 percent, even though, as a group, the relative importance of this segment of American households went from 17 to 20 percent. The group’s median income fell from $186,424 in 1999 to $173,207 in 2014.
In fact, the only segment of the U.S. population that has benefited from the economic, financial and taxation policies of the last three administrations (Clinton-Bush-Obama), and from technological changes that have occurred during the period, is the top echelon of the upper-income class.
The super rich have raked in the most, while profiting the most from various tax loopholes, which have lowered their average tax rate from 27 percent in 1992 to less than 17 percent in 2012. In fact, America’s super rich get richer and they are laughing their way to tax havens!
There is something fundamentally wrong and corrupt going on in the U.S. economy, and obviously, the Obama administration has been unable or unwilling to address the problem.
Official government statistics tend to underestimate real unemployment and real inflation
Obama’s war-based economy has enriched the super wealthy
All those wars waged abroad and the trillions of dollars spent on them have enriched some super wealthy Americans, but not ordinary Americans. Instead, they have impoverished them. Ordinary Americans are falling behind because their incomes are stagnant or falling, and because real unemployment rates and inflation rates are higher than reported.
According to official statistics, the annual rates of unemployment and of inflation (the consumer price index) would seem to be under control. For the first quarter of 2016, the U.S. unemployment rate hovers around 5.0 percent, while the inflation rate is just above 1.0 percent, pushed down by the decline in oil prices and by a relatively strong U.S dollar.
All this is to say that when people see their rents, condo fees, taxes, grocery purchases, etc., increase in price, and they experience a drop in their standard of living because of their stagnant or declining incomes, they are not necessarily hallucinating.
The Obama administration has allowed corporations and megabanks to offshore jobs and profits
Obama has lowered taxes and raised profits for corporations
Indeed, a partial answer to the many issues raised above is the fact that the Obama administration has been guilty of pursuing and even intensifying the move toward lower taxes for corporations, and more profits for large corporations and megabanks on two accounts.
Secret trade deals gave legal protection to world corporations and megabanks
First, the Obama administration has initiated two mammoth international “trade deals”. Those trade “deals” were mostly kept secret because one of their main objectives is to guarantee legal protection to world corporations and megabanks against elected national governments and give them immunity from national prosecution.
TTP and TTIP are really corporate and banking agreements to protect them against national governments
It must be understood by all that these so called “free trade” agreements are really not genuine free trade agreements for the unhampered movement of goods between countries, based on comparative national advantages, but are really instead corporate and banking agreements to protect corporations and megabanks against national governments, their taxation and their regulations.
They are an attempt to build a worldwide economic and financial order that supersedes national states
Such agreements, negotiated in near complete secrecy, pursue geopolitical objectives. They are an attempt to build a worldwide economic and financial order that supersedes national states and they represent also an effort to protect the corporate and banking elites—the establishment 1%—against national governments.
The TTIP’s geopolitical goal is to prevent European countries from entering into trade deals with Russia
In the case of the TTIP, its geopolitical objective is to prevent European countries from developing comprehensive trade agreements with Russia.
The goal of the TTP is to isolate China, a blatant act of economic warfare
In the case of TTP, the objective is to isolate China. In the eyes of Washington D.C. neocon planners, they are part of ongoing economic warfare.
Why has Washington made no effort to stop tax avoidance by wealthy individuals and corporations?
Second, the Obama administration has not taken the necessary steps to stop rich individuals and profitable corporations and banks from using tax havens and industrial inversion schemes to avoid paying taxes at home.
On Obama’s watch, the US’ unelected ruling class is building a global economic empire unencumbered by democratic rules
The Obama administration, and even more so the entire U.S. Congress, are under the influence of those interests whose objective is to build a worldwide economic and financial system that shields the 1% establishment’s wealth and power against any encroachment by national governments, at least from those governments the international elite does not yet fully control. We are talking here about an unelected world economic and financial empire with no frontiers, unencumbered by normal democratic rules.
Little wonder the US economy is languishing
This may be a big factor in explaining why the economy is languishing. Indeed, when corporate profits are not reinvested in the economy, but are hoarded and stashed away in tax havens, they do not increase domestic demand. U.S. corporations have about $1,400 billion ($1.4 trillion) sleeping in foreign tax havens. If all that money was repatriated, not only would the government have a lower deficit, but also the economy would greatly benefit from increased investments.
Obama admin and US Congress have done little to arrest this scandalous situation
This is a somewhat scandalous situation the Obama administration and the U.S. Congress have done very little about. On the contrary, both have been slow in putting a stop to so-called corporate “inversions”, which have allowed companies to find a foreign suitor and switch their headquarters abroad to dodge taxes. Both have also extended patent protection to already entrenched corporations at the expense of startup companies. And it is only recently that they have moved to block so-called megamergers—all developments that have reduced competition, created oligopolies, increased corporations’ market power and raised prices.
This may be the most glaring example of a lack of economic leadership on the part of the Obama administration, second only perhaps to the imperial wars it has initiated and encouraged. It is true that Mr. Obama has himself little competence or experience in economics and in finance, and that may explain why the above issues have not received all the attention they deserve.
Richard Perle, Bush’s leading architect of the Iraq war
After President Obama began making appointments to senior positions in his new administration, in late 2008, a leading neocon, Richard Perle, former chair of the Defense Policy Board under President George W. Bush and a leading architect of the Iraq war, expressed his contentment in these words: “I’m quite pleased… There’s not going to be as much change as we were led to believe.”
Robert Gates, Bush’s defense secretary, kept by Obama
Therefore, it can be said that President Obama’s betrayal of his promises to enact change began very early in his administration. For instance, he kept George W. Bush’s Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, in his post, as an indication he wanted continuity and not a break with the previous administration.
Rahm Emanuel, neocon member of House of Representatives, served as Obama’s chief of staff
Then, he went on paying his electoral debts. First, he named Rahm Emanuel as his White House chief of staff, a neocon member of the House of Representatives, and also a former assistant to President Bill Clinton and a supporter of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Hillary Clinton, belligerent, a ‘neocon’s neocon’, became Obama’s Secretary of State
Then, in a move that brought glee to the ranks of neoconservatives, he appointed belligerent and neocon-supported Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. The neoconservative Weekly Standard applauded her nomination, calling her a “Warrior Queen”! Even Bush’s Vice President Dick Cheney declared to be “impressed” with her nomination. As MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough branded her, Hillary Clinton is a “neocon’s neocon”, because “there’s hardly been a military engagement that Hillary hasn’t been for in the past twenty years.”
Victoria Nuland, a Dick Cheney adviser, becomes Obama’s Assistant Secretary of State
President Barack Obama went on to appoint a long list of other neocons to senior positions in his administration, not the least being the nomination of Ms. Victoria Nuland, a Dick Cheney adviser, as Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, in May 2013. From then on, the die was cast as to what kind of administration President Obama would lead. Real change would have to wait.
Obama’s pro-Israel veto closes the door to any progress of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict
For nearly three quarters of a century now, the rotten Palestinian-Israeli conflict has endured for two main reasons: the intransigence of the Israeli government in closing the door to any new settlements, and the active pro-Israel veto of the U.S. government at the United Nations.
As with Obama’s other promises, his pursuit of a peace deal also failed
In 2008, one of presidential candidate Barack Obama pledges was to actively pursue a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. He had, as he said, a two-fold strategy: restoring America’s tarnished image among Muslims and persuading the Israeli government to stop settlement expansion on Palestinian lands. On both accounts, he failed. As it has been the case with Mr. Obama’s other promises, there was less substance behind the rhetoric than met the eye. For example, he did not set up a special task force to implement the policy he professed to wish to put forward.
Obama has had no observable influence in stopping far-right Netanyahu from doing as he pleased
Consequently, President Barack Obama has had no observable influence in stopping the far-right Netanyahu Israeli government from pursuing its illegal settlements in Palestinian territory. He did not get any success either in persuading the government of Israel to enter into serious peace talks to solve the festering conflict and end the occupation of Palestine. And the reason is obvious: President Obama did not dare withdraw the U.S. veto protecting the state of Israel at the United Nations, even though there were some rumblings to that effect.
Obama even let himself be humiliated by Netanyahu
Worse maybe, is the fact that President Obama let himself be publicly snubbed and humiliated by Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in early 2015, when the latter disregarded a non-invitation by the Obama administration and nevertheless entered the United States and addressed the U.S. Congress. This created a weird occurrence, because this was a violation of basic diplomatic rules. It was a public display of the Israeli government’s contempt for the American President.
With a strong pro-Israel lobby calling the shots in the US, Obama was made to look weak and inept
In 2001, Benjamin Netanyahu boasted that he knew “what America is. —America is a thing that you can move very easily, move it in the right direction.” What Netanyahu meant, of course, is that the pro-Israel lobby in the United States is so financially and politically powerful that an Israeli leader can publicly insult the American president, with no consequences, and even with the enthusiastic approval of an obliging U.S. Congress. President Barack Obama never looked so weak and so despondent as during this awkward and unreal situation.
President Obama has refused to release elements of proof linking Saudi Arabia to the 9/11 terrorists
A last point is also worthy of mention. Despite numerous requests, President Obama has refused to inform adequately the American people on the extent of Saudi Arabia’s involvement in supporting the 9/11 terrorists. The families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks and scores of others have called on Mr. Obama to release the classified 28-page portion of a special House-Senate congressional report on the 9/11 attacks, produced in 2002, and purportedly identifying individuals at the highest levels of the Saudi government as the financing agents of some of the 9/11 terrorists. In mid-April, President Obama even said that a decision to release the information was “imminent”.
After his trip to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia last April, it seems that the “imminence” of the release was postponed sine die. Rather, President Obama went even further and promised to refuse to sign into law a bill that would have made the kingdom of Saudi Arabia liable for damages stemming from the September 11 terror attacks. However, he did not extend the same privilege to the Government of Iran, which is being sued by Americans for alleged damages.
So much for Obama’s promise for “a new era of transparent and open government”
Even though president Barack Obama promised, on January 29, 2009, “a new era of transparent and open Government”, this seemingly did not apply to the rights of Americans to know who was behind the 9/11 attacks that resulted in 3,000 horrific American deaths. This has led some observers to call his administration “the least transparent in history”. This is another example of Mr. Obama saying one thing and doing the opposite. It seems to be a pattern in his modus operandi.
Three possible explanation for the huge gulf between Obama’s words and deeds
Why has there been such a contrast between President Obama’s words and his deeds? After all, he promised “to end the mindset that got us into war”. There are three possible explanations.
First, as a politician, Barack Obama may not have been completely sincere when he said he wanted to change the mentality in Washington D.C. He may have thought that these were only words to be soon forgotten. —Politicians are ambitious opportunists and Mr. Obama was not different.
Second, those who wrote his speeches may not have been the same ones making the policies. Thus, the gulf observed between the flowery speeches and the actual policies.
Third, there is possibly a less generous explanation: Mr. Obama may have been a convenient figurehead used by those who really control the U.S. government in the shadows. —It could be a mixture of all these explanations.
Obama was too easily manipulated by his neocon advisers, and ended up following rather than leading
One can surely argue that the Obama administration, on the whole, was ‘less bad’ than the previous Bush-Cheney administration, both domestically and internationally. However, because elected presidential candidate Barack Obama arrived at the White House without any administrative experience and without having his own brain trust, and seemingly, without having a clear plan on how to implement his lofty promises, he had to submit himself to the same neocon advisers and warmongering interventionists who were omnipresent in the previous administration. He ended up reacting rather than acting; following rather than leading.
How else to explain why Obama’s policies followed those of the Bush administration?
That is why the Obama administration’s policies, especially foreign policy, with a few notable exceptions, did not diverge appreciably from those imperial policies pursued by the previous Bush-Cheney administrations.
President Barack Obama, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has failed to live up to the promises he made and the hopes he raised.
Both neocon-inspired administrations ended up creating an enduring mess in the world that future governments, and even future generations, will have to deal with.
Rodrigue Tremblay is a Canadian economist, humanist and political figure. He is an emeritus professor of economics at the Université de Montréal. He specializes in macroeconomics, international trade and finance, and public finance.
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