Obama be­com­ing what he promised to be

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Richard Gwyn Richard Gwyn is a na­tional af­fairs writer for Torstar Syn­di­ca­tion Ser­vices.

Although much about the U.S. po­lit­i­cal sys­tem is ad­mirable — it is, for in­stance, a good deal more demo­cratic than ours — it has some siz­able flaws.

One ex­am­ple is the way that Amer­i­can pres­i­dents dur­ing their last two years in of­fice of­ten spend more time and energy on their post-pres­i­den­tial legacy than on run­ning the coun­try — ma­jor crises ex­cepted of course.

U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama reached the two-year mark one year ago. Amid a gen­er­al­ized list­less­ness and a sense of a loss of di­rec­tion, as well as just si­lence, he seemed set to be­have ex­actly as many of his pre­de­ces­sors have done.

In­stead, he has torn up the rule. The same Obama who won his first pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in 2008 by, in con­sid­er­able part, a prom­ise of “change,” is back among us again.

It is now the Repub­li­cans who look like they’ve lost their sense of di­rec­tion, and, in the in­stance of the ec­cen­tric pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump, ap­pear to have lost any hold on any sense at all.

Luck has helped the new Obama or, more ex­actly, it has helped him be­come his old self again.

For years, Washington has at­tempted but failed to ne­go­ti­ate a free trade deal — the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship — to knit to­gether 12 na­tions from Asia and the Western Hemi­sphere, among them Canada.

Sud­denly, this mas­sive pro­ject, which would en­com­pass more than 40 per cent of global trade, now seems to be within reach.

Obama’s con­tri­bu­tion was to per­suade enough Repub­li­cans to sup­port it, thereby out­vot­ing those Democrats who feared free trade would cost jobs.

His great­est cur­rent achieve­ment — amaz­ingly, it also hap­pened in July — is of course the deal by which Iran agreed to strict con­trols on its nu­clear pro­gram in ex­change for an end to eco­nomic and fi­nan­cial sanc­tions on the coun­try.

Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry pulled off the ac­tual pact. Obama’s role has been to sell the deal to key U.S. al­lies such as Saudi Ara­bia and Egypt and Jor­dan, although not yet to Is­rael, which will be a much tougher task.

Gain­ing con­gres­sional ap­proval won’t be at all easy this time around. But the price of re­ject­ing so vi­tal a scheme would be too high.

As Obama has put it, the prob­a­ble con­se­quence would be a “re­turn to con­flict” be­tween the U.S. and Iran, a re­turn to the nearly 40 years of bit­ter ha­tred be­tween the two coun­tries.

Some­times it seems that Obama now has a mag­i­cal wand in his hand. His Af­ford­able Care Act, or ex­panded med­i­cal care, was at­tacked in some 50 hos­tile mo­tions in Congress, most of them claim­ing that the pro­gram was a vi­o­la­tion of the con­sti­tu­tion.

One of these mo­tions was car­ried to the ul­ti­mate level of the U.S. Supreme Court. Many as­sumed that Obama was about to be hu­mil­i­ated.

In­stead, in June, the court ruled by a mar­gin of six to three that no con­sti­tu­tional of­fence had been com­mit­ted. All hos­til­ity to Oba­macare, as the pro­gram is of­ten called, has abruptly van­ished.

As hap­pens of­ten, suc­cess re­in­forces it­self. Where once Obama’s record in for­eign af­fairs has been al­most bar­ren, it is now bur­geon­ing.

In it­self, the peace pact with Cuba that Obama has ac­com­plished has only a sec­ondary sig­nif­i­cance in com­par­i­son to that at­tained by the deal with Iran. One as­pect of this new rap­port does mat­ter though. The hos­til­i­ties be­tween Cuba and the U.S. stretch back more than half a cen­tury, even longer than those be­tween Amer­i­cans and Ira­ni­ans.

And he’s not fin­ished yet. Obama’s most re­cent ini­tia­tive has been to an­nounce a re­view of the United States’ of­ten bru­tal pris­ons.

Re­mark­ably, the funds for this long-over­due re­view will come from two far-right bil­lion­aires, Charles and David Koch, whose other oc­cu­pa­tion is that of show­er­ing money upon Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates.

No one has ever doubted Obama’s smarts. What has un­til now of­ten been un­der­es­ti­mated is how shrewd and canny he is ca­pa­ble of be­ing.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.