Don’t write off Obama just yet!
Despite severe opposition from the Republicans, President Barack Obama finally did what he should have done years ago – he announced a plan to stop deportation of almost five million undocumented migrants from the US.
“They have the ability to fix the system. What they don’t have the ability to do is to expect me to stand by with a broken system in perpetuity.”
Immigration reform has been ‘way overdue’. The president’s announcement does not, however, fix the broken system. It’s a Band-Aid treatment that will help take care of the matter for the time being. The real fix is in the hands of the fragmented and divisive Congress that refuses to cooperate with the president.
The Republicans are mad at Obama and are threatening to sue the White House since they believe that the president is acting like an ‘emperor’ and a ‘dictator’. Obviously, since nothing gets done in the Congress, someone’s got to do the job. With the Republicans winning majority in both houses of Congress by virtue of the November elections, it is no surprise that the president is anxious to get on with his reform agenda.
Obama is left with only two years in office; the so-called ‘lame duck’ years’ whereby presidents usually prefer to take the back seat and get ready for their post-White House years. But not this president though. Tremendous stalling and stalemate have characterised his presidency and he doesn’t have much to show on paper vis-à-vis domestic US policy and reform. The only worthwhile achievement, the Affordable Care Act also known as Obamacare, is perpetually under attack from the opposition that has contested the legislation in the Supreme Court almost 50 times. One is not too sure about its future since Republicans want to repeal the law as soon as they take over the new Congress in January 2015.
Looking at the broader picture, Obama’s next two years could turn out to be the busiest years of his presidency. The US is occupied with a number of overseas conflicts that have had an incredible impact at home. While Obama is trying to pull troops out of Afghanistan, again to the disliking of the right wingers, America’s commitment in Iraq may actually expand instead of shrinking, thanks to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) issue. While there are plenty of other fires to put out, presidential acts and decrees may now become a regular feature of US politics.
With the president and the Republicans always at daggers drawn and appearing to talk different languages, Obama may not after all act like a nice guy anymore. And he shouldn’t. He was elected by the people based on the ‘yes we can’ agenda but he really hasn’t been able to deliver much. US bilateral and multilateral relations with several other countries of the world are not as great as they were before, especially in the initial years of Obama’s presidency. Lack of goodwill and foreign policy mishaps have led to diplomatic fallouts consistently. The US is seen, rather portrayed, as an unfriendly country that likes to fight instead of negotiating peacefully – a ‘my way or the highway’ approach that hasn’t won many allies lately. Setbacks at home have been accompanied by setbacks abroad as well. This is all due to Obama’s hesitancy to take decisive measures and opt for hard choices.
For instance, Obama seems to have lost incredible ground with one-time archenemy Russia. Back in early 2012, he assured the then Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, that after his re-election to the White House, he’d have more flexibility to build stronger links and ties with Russia and hence act different whilst dealing with foreign policy issues. In the backdrop of the Ukraine crisis of 2014, that promise remains unfulfilled. It’s been a while since the Kremlin has initiated a gesture of goodwill toward Washington.
Countries like Pakistan seem adamant about the US not paying attention when their assistance is needed. Whereas Islamabad remains a reliable ally in the war against terror, Obama hasn’t made any significant overtures to ensure that the alliance stays well-oiled and the rough areas are ironed out. As a matter of fact, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit in September this year to the White House and Obama’s planned trip to India in January 2015 may antagonise Pakistan even more. Modi’s September trip was seen in Washington as heralding a new phase of Indo-US relations.
President Obama can probably take a leaf out of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s book of post-10 Downing Street strategy. Blair created a well-knit web of contacts and connections during his years as prime minister and although his exit from office was rather unceremonious, he has managed to continue his role as a global diplomat working for humanitarian causes. This also holds true for the 39th US President, Jimmy Carter, who has met with even greater success in his years beyond the White House as a highly successful negotiator and philanthropist.
Obama’s next big achievement could be getting over the ISIS problem. Although he’s clearly stated that US involvement with respect to resolving the ISIS situation may continue even after his years in the White House, he can lay a strong base for an effective operational mechanism that’ll ensure hitting back and containing the ISIS upsurge.
Another issue that needs Obama’s hands on intervention is the Israel-Palestine crisis. So far he’s been remote controlling matters through his secretary of state, John Kerry, who has done a reasonable job. However, like Bill Clinton, he must adopt a ‘roll up the sleeves and get it done’ attitude and work with the critical role players instead of distancing himself from the conflict.
The president and his advisors understand that this is no longer about winning the popularity contest. The president has nothing to lose. And, honestly, his Democratic party has nothing to lose either since they just lost pathetically in the mid-term elections. The next big challenge for the Democrats is the 2016 presidential election. The likelihood is that Hillary Clinton will run and given her immense popularity, it’ll be absolutely immaterial what Obama does in his last two years in office.
The president must not wait any longer since the American people, and the world at large, expect solutions. It is hoped that the immigration reform act will be the first step toward a revitalised presidency that will help Obama leave a positive imprint as a leader who manned up and delivered in the fading years of his second term.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.