SASKATOON (CUP) &- After a year in office, United States President Barack Obama has shown that even the greatest orators must eventually face the difficulties of governing.
Swept into power by an American public hungry for inspiration and a change from the disastrous policies of the Bush administration, Obama was always doomed to disappoint his followers sooner or later. Indeed, those disappointments started arriving fast and frequently.
The decision to close the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba was made on Obama’s first day in the Oval Office but a full year later, almost 200 prisoners are still detained there. Even worse, the Obama Justice Department has said about 50 of those detainees will be held indefinitely, without trial. This comes after two years on the campaign trail during which Obama repeatedly condemned the detention facility and the practice of indefinite detention for tarnishing America’s image.
Guantanamo Bay is not the only area in which Obama has embraced Bush-Cheney tactics. Obama has also endorsed military commission trials rather than court trials for detainees, and has allowed sweeping secrecy privileges for his administration, which was highlighted by his refusal to release reports about the torture or abuse of prisoners at secret CIA prisons.
The United States has maintained its military presence in Iraq, has escalated the war in Afghanistan, has increased strikes within Pakistan and has carried out strikes in Yemen. This has all come at the hands of a Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Obama’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has also been more of the same. Although initially he leaned on his Israeli allies to stop building settlements on Palestinian lands 8212; a major obstacle to any peace process 8212; he soon softened his stance, allowing the hard right in Israel to continue undermining any hope for peace.
In all these examples, Obama’s policies have been marked by an eager willingness to abandon his positions and reach compromise.
Rather than taking the hard road, closing Guantanamo Bay and truly rebranding America as a beacon of human rights, the Obama administration found it expedient to continue the same policies of the Bush-Cheney era.
Rather than letting go of decades of one-sided support for Israel and encouraging a fair peace process, the administration found it too easy to throw their hands up &- “We tried, after all” &- and allow ongoing encroachment into Palestinian territory that is sure to breed distrust and future violence on both sides of the conflict.
Even in his attempts to restructure American health care, Obama compromised until there was little left to give away. Instead of pushing for universal coverage under a single-payer system like Canada’s, he instead pushed for the nebulous “public option.” When Democrats faced continued opposition to health care reform, they soon dropped that too. If Americans are to have any health care reform, it will be a far cry from what candidate Obama promised to deliver back in 2008.
On the environment, Obama is way ahead of his predecessor. But when the young president travelled to Copenhagen in December, the best deal he managed to get was a non-binding agreement to one day in the future deal with climate change. The efficacy of international agreements like the Kyoto Protocol is questionable, but Obama invested very little effort in reaching a stronger deal in Copenhagen.
Ultimately, whether or not Obama succeeds as a president will depend on pocketbook issues. “It’s the economy, stupid” was the Clinton campaign’s unofficial slogan in 1992, yet its simple message holds true to today. Obama could easily enjoy a second term if he shows he can improve the day-to-day lives of his fellow citizens.
However, even on this front Obama has shown a willingness to accept too little and give up too much. The enormous Wall Street bailout that he oversaw successfully rescued most financial firms from bankruptcy but high unemployment and tight credit still exist for everyday people. The banks seemingly got everything they asked for but Obama and the Democrats are hard-pressed to pass any sort of financial reform that will prevent future financial meltdowns. Some form of financial reform bill may eventually pass, but whether or not it will add any meaningful protection to the financial system is uncertain.
The first year of a four-year presidency is not always a good gauge of a leader. However, President Obama’s supporters are sure to be disappointed by his thin record of achievement so far. With most major policies, the 44th president has shown that he would rather accept a compromise &- any compromise &- rather than fight a prolonged battle for a more favourable outcome. The day-to-day troubles of governing have reduced Obama’s inspiring, idealistic positions from the campaign trail to the chastened, compromising policies we see today.