Another guest post by Déaghán Ó Céitinn, currently resident in Perth, Australia, where he is active with Cairde Sinn Féin.
The Obama Regime
After the Trump victory in the recent United States’ presidential election, Barrack Obama expressed some concern for the legacy of his two terms in office. A legacy that started with cheering crowds waving signs printed with the motto “Yes we can!” and ended with local and state police throwing concussion grenades at their fellow citizens in North Dakota.
The administration of Mr Obama has overseen the continued use of torture by the US or its allies, military incursions into several nations by the United States and its erstwhile friends, the privatisation of some of the country’s most valuable institutions, and soaring levels of poverty (some 14% of the population according to official statistics released in 2015). More recently we have witnessed the controversies relating to the Dakota Access Pipeline, where the president initially stood by while police officers used a water cannon, rubber bullets and eventually CS gas to suppress peaceful protesters from mainly indigenous communities.
Many observers expected Mr Obama’s election in 2008 to mark a significant change in US foreign policy, moving away from the failed geo-political strategies of his predecessor, George W Bush, and the neo-cons who held sway in the White House and the State Department for eight years. However it was to become apparent that the new president was hesitant when it came to reducing the intensity of America’s overseas operations, which some have characterised as a form of 21st century imperialism. The continued occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq by the United States, directly or indirectly, and the fall of the Libyan government, orchestrated by the US and others, signalled the beginning of a new era of Cold War-style tactics dictated by the Obama White House and latterly the Clinton State Department.
The current president and his government are guilty of offences relating to several conflicts around the world initiated or made worse by US interference, some of which are arguably criminal in nature (the supposedly discriminate use of armed drones in particular is deeply problematic). Mr Obama ignored the advice of humanitarian groups and activists who urged his administration not to arm or finance the disparate Opposition forces in the Syrian civil war, his policies contributing to one of the greatest humanitarian crisis of the past decade.
Mr Obama’s campaign message of “Hope” was not extended to the soaring prison population in the United States. The country may be 4.4% of the global population but it currently holds 22% of the world’s incarcerated population – more than any other Western nation-state. These men and women are furthered punished by removing one of the defining rights of citizenship in any democracy – the freedom to vote.
The president has enabled Donald Trump to follow through on his election campaign threats by failing to prosecute those who tortured prisoners in Gutanamo and elsewhere. Mr Obama, despite having time to pass sufficient legislation to curtail the American surveillance state, and pardon whistle-blower Edward Snowden, has made no such effort to do so, or shown any inclination to roll back the country’s programme of mass spying.
The president has also overseen, or at least stood by, as the country’s most vulnerable classes suffered enormously during the years following the global financial crash of 2008 and onward. A failure not unrelated to the rise of Donald Trump. The president did not break up the banks, did not tighten in any meaningful way the country’s financial regulations, though he did bail out Wall Street and dedicated 4 trillion dollars to quantitative easing.
While the so-called alt-right believe Mr Obama to be “too progressive” or worse, a “communist”, arguably his two terms in office have proved that he lies firmly within the American tradition of conservative centre-left politics (which are well to the right of their European equivalent). After a false dawn of rapprochement with the broader world, and the global Islamic community in particular, he has continued the failed foreign policies began under George Bush, through selective action and inaction. The precedents that he and his predecessor set will enable a Trump administration and a Republican Congress to expand on some of the worse aspects of those policies. From curtailing habeas corpus to a greater application of the Espionage Act against the press, Barack Obama has simply externalised George Orwell’s 1984.