Obama becoming what he promised to be
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.