Barack Obama is easily the most disappointing President of my politically aware life. Say what you like about George W. Bush’s presidency, it wasn’t disappointing. I tend to have gatherings for big elections, and on the night of the 2000 US election debacle, I said that if Bush was declared the winner, the US was going to war with Iraq. His Presdiency was everything I expected. But the man and his team knew power when they had it, and wielded it without remorse. He was just the right wing savage I expected him to be.
Enter Barack Obama. He came to power with such swirling and gorgeous rhetoric on the promise of change and the real American dream of liberty for all (rather than big screen TVs for all), that it was difficult not to believe him. Then he squandered his first term trying to “reach across the aisle” and “consensus build”. He should have spent those first two years bludgeoning the Republicans with the legislative cudgel his party held by having not just the Presidency, but majorities in both Houses.
Not only did he waste his opportunity to impose a liberal domestic agenda, he destroyed the bits of American credibility the Bush regime left behind internationally. The list of disappointments is long. They include his failure to close Guantanamo – his first day in office, he said; his continuing and accelerated use of drones to violate the airspace and sovereignty of countries even technically classified as allies; his huffing and puffing over the “red line” in Syria, only to hand Vladimir Putin (of all people) the stunning diplomatic coup of having both been seen to solve the problem, and still allow his ally in Damascus to continue its relentless civil war; and most recently his laughable attempts to stare down Putin over Russia’s seizure of Crimea when his only weapon is bluster.
The days of America as the indispensable nation, as Madeleine Albright so humbly once put it, are over. It’s just so 20th century. China and Russia are very much now on the scene as superpowers. In Russia’s case, back on the scene. One might think of Crimea as a coming out party. China has yet to host its coming out party, but you don’t spend a decade undergoing one of the most massive military buildups in human history without having something in mind. At minimum, we live in a tri-polar world now. Throw Europe (not the auto-ally of the United States it once was) and India into the mix, and we see a greater and greater dilution of American power and influence.
Barack Obama didn’t cause the dramatic decline of American geopolitical significance, it was well under way long before he became President. But he has proven himself unable to rise to the occasion, and if the day of Pax Americana has ended, history will record him as the man in office when it happened.