Obama may have delivered on some of his domestic policies, but in the eight years of his presidency what has he really done for the Middle East?
President Obama leaves office with a job approval rating as high or higher than any of his predecessors. By every measure the 44th president of the United States leaves the country he was elected to lead in a much better shape than the day of his inauguration.
He inherited the worst domestic economic conditions since the Great Depression, with the economy hemorrhaging 800,000 jobs per month on the day his Republican predecessor handed him the keys to the Oval Office. Since then, Obama has overseen a record-breaking 74 consecutive months of private sector job growth, resulting in the creation of nearly 15 million jobs, which pits him favourably against the greatest job creator of all time – President Clinton, who added 23 million jobs on the back of the technology revolution.
Unlike Bush, Obama kept America safe from a catastrophic terrorist attack
Moreover, the 2014-15 period saw the largest one-year drop in the national poverty rate since the Kennedy administration.
Inflation remains at near optimal levels of around two percent, the stock market has tripled under Obama, and house prices have exceeded their pre-2007 crash levels in most parts of the country. As for the deficit, Obama cut spending further and faster than any US president since the second world war.
Violent crime has also fallen during Obama’s eight years in office. During the Bush years, there were 459 violent crimes per 100,000. Today there are 333. Also worth noting is that unlike Bush, Obama kept America safe from a catastrophic terrorist attack.
From one metric to another, America is in far better shape under Obama than his predecessor, and given an added 23 million Americans now have health insurance, and given Obama did stave off a second Great Depression, while also managing two wars, one he had opposed as a senator, history will surely and deservedly mark America’s first black president as one of its greatest.
Moreover, these achievements come despite every conceivable and underhanded attempt by the Republican Party to obstruct, nullify, and block the Obama administration every step of the way. Putting party before country, ignominy before decency, the GOP tried many times to sabotage national economic recovery in the belief it would bloody the president’s nose, and score them cheap political points in return. They shut down the government; defaulted on America’s credit obligations, and even blocked their own bits of legislation when Obama had come out in support of it.
Spectators watch during the parade following Obama's second inauguration in Washington DC as the 44th US president on 21 January 2013 (AFP)
Despite the opposition’s cynicism and intransigence, Obama never once undignified himself by fighting on their terms. In fact, unlike nearly all of his post-second world war predecessors, he leaves America’s highest office completely scandal free.
These are Obama’s domestic achievements. They are to be celebrated. His foreign policy accomplishments, however, are another story. Tragically.
While the flames of sectarian civil war in the Middle East are a legacy of Obama’s predecessor, with gasoline poured onto the fire by bitter geopolitical rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, Obama has done little or nothing to bring about real positive change in the region (maybe with the exception of the Iran deal). This is a remarkable footnote to his presidency given that his 2009 speech in Cairo promised the Arab world a “new beginning” – one in which the wrongs of Bush would be righted, and one in which Israel’s defiance of international law and human rights would no longer be tolerated.
Right to Protect (R2P) says Rwanda, Darfur, Bosnia and Kosovo are to never happen again. But Obama let it happen again – in Syria
I’ll come to Israel in a moment, but where Bush invaded and occupied predominantly Muslim lands, Obama carried out a relentless drone programme, supported by Special Operations, which only further inflamed hostilities in the Arab world towards the West. All in the name of carrying out a war against violent extremism - a specious strategy given numerous studies show aerial bombardment to be one of the major drivers for those who turn to violent extremism.
To that end, Obama dropped more than 26,000 bombs on Muslim countries in 2016 alone – translating to more than three per hour, every hour of every day.
Chelsea Manning, a US military intelligence officer in Iraq, exposed the nature and brutality of this type of warfare when she blew the whistle on atrocities carried out by the US military during the so-called “War on Terror.” In 2013, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking 700,000 documents to WikiLeaks. On Tuesday, however, Obama commuted Manning’s sentence, and she will be rightfully released in May.
Now for Israel. Despite promising to halt Israeli settlements, despite promising to bring Israel to heel, and despite enduring eight years of insults from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama not only handed a record $38bn in military aid to the apartheid Zionist state, but also vindicated and sanctified Israel’s brutal and barbaric 51-day siege of Gaza in 2014, which left 2,200 Palestinians dead – 1,800 of them mostly women and children.
In Syria, Obama not only ignored his own “red line” against Assad, but also walked away from the human security norm – Right to Protect (R2P).
R2P is a principle human rights activists have fought to establish as an international norm – one that recognises that sovereign governments are the greatest purveyors of violence against civilians, and accordingly, collective intervention via the international community is justified if a sovereign government commits genocide, ethnic cleansing, or war crimes against its own people. R2P says Rwanda, Darfur, Bosnia and Kosovo are to never happen again. But Obama let it happen again – in Syria.
Obama shakes hands with Saudi Governor of Riyadh as he arrives for a two-day visit to attend the Gulf summit on 20 April 2016 (AFP)
In Yemen, Obama directly contributed to the human catastrophe unfolding there.
In Yemen, Obama put realpolitik before fundamental human rights. To sate Saudi anxieties over the Iran deal, Obama oversaw an unprecedented transfer of arms to the kingdom – and then turned a blind eye to Saudi atrocities in the Middle East’s poorest country, which has left 21 million Yemenis in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.
These are the two sides of the Obama presidency. While America has prospered under his lead, the Middle East has further suffered at the hands of both US intervention and indifference.
Thus his final legacy in five words or less might read:
Obama: American Dream. Arab Nightmare.
- CJ Werleman is the author of Crucifying America, God Hates You. Hate Him Back, Koran Curious, and is the host of Foreign Object. Follow him on twitter: @cjwerleman
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.