Editorial in The ISLAND, 17 January 2017, entitled “Obama’s Swansong”… with highlighting bing the Editor Thuppahi’s work.
President Barack Obama has, towards the latter part of his second term, shown a tendency to get increasingly maudlin. Tears welled up in his eyes the other day while making his farewell speech. Last year, he refused to speak at his daughter Malia’s graduation lest he should get too emotional. In 2015, he was seen wiping away tears during a fascinating performance by Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul.
It is toe-curling to see grown up men, especially political leaders, cry over seemingly innocuous matters. The question is why Obama was not so sensitive when US military campaigns and regime change operations on his watch left thousands of civilians, including children, dead and maimed in countries such as Afghanistan, Syria and Libya. He had no problem with exporting missile-mounted democracy, as it were, slap bang to target states much to the shock and dismay of civilians there.
Obama is scheduled to give his final media briefing as the US President, in Washington, today. Questions he will have to field are not difficult to guess. There will be glib answers to curve balls. The hardest part of his final act will be handing over the White House to a person he has never missed an opportunity to vent his spleen on. It wouldn’t have been so difficult for him to leave that mansion of grandeur if Hillary Clinton had been able to succeed him.
Obama continues to betray his antipathy towards President elect Donald Trump. He has given some gratuitous advice to the latter; the White House should not be run as a family business! He has also told Trump, “After you have been sworn in, you will be in charge of the largest organisation on Earth”. Obviously, Obama is still smarting from Trump’s baseless claim that the former was not born in the US.
In 2011, Obama stooped so low as to ridicule Trump before a distinguished gathering at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, described as the annual gathering of Washington political establishment and glitterati. Even a mock-up video was flashed to embarrass Trump, who looked on, stone-faced. Humiliation he suffered at the hands of Obama that day is believed to have given him the strength of purpose to run for president.
Obama is lucky that the US too big to be held accountable for its actions. Had the numerous human rights violations his administration is responsible for in other countries been committed by a smaller nation, its leader would have been tried by an international court for war crimes. Norway made a mockery of its Nobel Peace Prize by awarding it to Obama even before he had properly settled down in office. Anyway, that prize lost its meaning the day it was denied to Mahatma Gandhi.
The US as well as the world is lucky that American Presidents cannot seek a third term. But, some outgoing presidents find it difficult to come to terms with the term limit just like their counterparts here. President Obama declared a few weeks ago that if he had been able to run for President again he would have been able to secure a third term. If so, he should explain why he could not ensure the victory of his former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who presented herself to the electorate as the Democratic Party’s standard-bearer and ran mostly on his agenda, pledging to continue with his pet projects. He went so far as to describe the 2016 presidential election as ‘a choice about democracy and moral values that went way beyond politics — about the country coming together to reject a dangerous, self-centered cynic without the basic honesty that a president needs and the party that nominated him’. Has America rejected democracy and moral values by electing Trump?
While listening to President Obama for the last few weeks, one may have wondered whether he was an American of Sri Lankan extraction. For, he hasn’t been able to reconcile himself to the fact that he failed to foil his bête noire’s presidential bid and Americans elected Trump President. He now blames the Russians for having had a hand in Trump’s election. The last few days of his stay in the White House have seen the induction of US boots in Poland, a move widely seen to be aimed at riling Russia.
Speaking of a CIA report on alleged cyber attacks by Russia to influence the last US presidential election, Obama has said he underestimated their impact initially. It is a supreme irony that he says, “I think that I underestimated the degree to which, in this new information age, it is possible for misinformation … and so forth to have an impact on our open societies.” This exactly is what the US uses to engineer regime changes in other countries. If what Obama says is true then Russia has beaten the US at its own game!
Contrary to Obama’s claims, America’s biggest problem won’t be Trump. There are several unfinished wars the US has to contend with on all fronts. Obama may have got rid of Osama, but terrorism continues to threaten the US. Trump won’t be able to tame China by bringing American factories home or recognising Taiwan as an independent state. Economic prowess is the be-all and end-all of super power status. The biggest challenge before the US is to revitalise its economy. That is a tall order for any president.