Wednesday, 29 April 2009
100 Days: Barack Obama has taken some steps in the right direction - but let’s not kid ourselves
Unless connected to their predecessor, presidents are able to enjoy the luxury of blaming their predecessor for a while. Obama may have extended this period through some impressive political posturing. The disclosure of the memos authorising detainee abuse was inevitable due to an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit, releasing the memos early allows Obama to distance himself from their contents.
The closure of Guantánamo Bay is to be welcomed, but it too seems more likely to be politically motivated rather than morally. Its geographical proximity and historical connotations means that it carries considerable symbolic value beyond its terror suspect prison status both in the US and elsewhere. Nowhere will the symbolism resonate more greatly than Cuba, it was, after all, once Cuban land before US ‘intervention’.
New relations with Cuba are, so far, tiny steps in the right direction. The archaic trade embargo, a hangover from the cold war, is still in place. In fact, all that has been undone are additional restrictions brought in by George Bush Junior. Nonetheless, Obama’s move away from Bush’s stance on Cuba, Venezuela, Iran and Europe is to be welcomed. Welcomed but not exaggerated.
His burgeoning presidency has seen some less contestable successes, for example, allowing wider research on stem cells is unquestionably the right move. The planned departure of US troops from Iraq, on the other hand, is an unquestionable fudge.
Obama is all too willing to make concessions when he deems it politically expedient. His pledge to speak “truthfully about the Armenian genocide” was avoided through deliberate obfuscation. His calls for peace in the Middle East feel like empty platitudes. The subtext of past speeches has revealed him to be reluctant to criticise Israel. Given that Israel's coalition government is particularly right-wing and the shift rightwards of Israel’s Labour party, it seems peace can only come at the expense of Palestinians.
Obama has not had it all his own way, Europe rejected sending more troops to Afghanistan and refused an economic stimulus package on Obama’s terms. Nor will he have it all his way in the future: Pakistan is becoming increasingly unstable. North Korea seems as defiant as ever having fired ballistic missiles. Afghanistan’s impending national elections will likely trigger greater disturbance in the region.
His nation awaits a much-vaunted health care reform plan.