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Sam Hamad

Barack Obama: 'The too little too late' president

"Trump will not be so vague in his unwavering support for Israel" writes Hamad [Getty]

Date of publication: 4 January, 2017

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Comment: Obama often found the right words, but rarely matched rhetoric with meaningful and necessary action, writes Sam Hamad

The late Christopher Hitchens once wrote that the then new president Barack Obama had politically feline qualities, namely due to his perceived coolness and lightness, mixed with his apparent luckiness when it came to the events surrounding his stratospheric rise to the presidency. 

While Hitchens goes on to mostly praise Obama's qualities, one can't help but find his observation that Obama's apparent lightness concealed a fundamental vapidity when it came to principles or worldview, to be extremely apt. 

While the social context of Obama as America's first black president elevates his significance in political terms much beyond his personality and his policies, one must focus on the world that Obama leaves behind as his time as president expires. 

And though Obama's so-called feline qualities remain, with him still exuding an almost impressive lightness and sangfroid when it comes to his general demeanour, the world is far from light or calm. 

Although it's true that the major problems faced by the world can't be attributed solely to Obama or the US, most of these problems have unfolded and calcified in an unprecedented manner due to factors that are directly linked to Obama's presidency. 

Obama ought to, but almost certainly won't, go down in history as the "too little, too late" president – the president who, as an engrossingly erudite speaker, often found the right words, but rarely matched rhetoric with meaningful and necessary action. 

Nowhere is this better demonstrated than the Obama administration's recent decision to abstain on and not veto the vote on a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel's building of settlements in Palestinian territory it occupies militarily. 

Obama ought to, but almost certainly won't, go down in history as the 'too little, too late' president

On the surface of things, this move by Obama ought to be welcomed unconditionally by progressives who support Palestinian self-determination in the face of Israel's destructive annexation of the West Bank. 

It signals a superficially progressive change in terms of US policy. The status quo of US administrations, going back beyond Reagan, has been to rhetorically condemn Israel's annexation of the West Bank as undermining the two-state solution, while shielding Israel from international rebuke or - perish the thought - action by using its veto power to ward off any UN incentives against its ally's activities.

As we saw in 2011, this has often led to the absurd circumstances of the US vetoing its own stated policy regarding settlements and thus undermining its own initiatives in the so-called "peace process". 

And this is precisely the point – it's yet another fundamentally vapid flurry by the too little too late president. Obama took this action against Israel's intransigence in the last weeks of his presidency, at a time when he can't take any meaningful action against or form a concrete policy against such intransigence. 

Had this stance been taken years five ago, the US could've piled real pressure on the Netanyahu government to halt their creeping annexation of the West Bank. But instead, the Obama administration's admittedly unprecedented condemnatory rhetoric will not simply disappear into the ether when Obama's successor takes office, but it will be actively reversed. 

For while America's first black president has for 95 percent of his time in office appeased Israel with only vague condemnations on settlements mixed with active support, as Israel committed mass murder in Gaza on two different occasions during his presidency, Mr Trump, will not be so vague in his unwavering support for Israel. 

As with Obama's too little, too late action over Israel, his action against Russia comes at a time when, in a matter of weeks, it will all be reversed

After John Kerry's speech in which he rightly pointed out that Israel's settlements were the biggest obstacle to peace; and had effectively killed the two-state solution, President-elect Trump tweeted the message "stay strong Israel… January 20th [the date of his inauguration] is fast approaching", something that was in turn welcomed by Netanyahu. 

Trump eclipses every US president since the Israeli occupation first began in 1967 by actively supporting Israel's settlement-building activities – he even supports moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. 

Given East Jerusalem is illegally occupied territory, this could be no stronger a demonstration of Trump's support for Greater Israel on the back of the annexation of Palestinian land, ethnic cleansing and the deepening of the order of apartheid in the Occupied Territories.

Obama's too little, too late superficial action and rhetoric against Israel's destructiveness will be met with decisive and concrete support for it by President Trump. 

Obama has for eight years sat, watched and appeased an Israeli government that has gone from hosting the hard right, to genuine fascists.  His administration has spouted the rhetoric of peace and a just settlement for Israelis and Palestinians, while appeasing Israeli political forces that want neither peace with, or justice for Palestinians. 

Obama might want to reflect on why Russia was emboldened enough to so brazenly interfere in US elections through hacking

This is perhaps the great legacy of Obama's presidency - while he has often cultivated progressive rhetoric, he has failed to build a progressive agenda in concrete terms. This is a major reason why the president who takes up Obama's seat in the Oval Office will not be a progressive, defending - even by the flimsy standards of the Democratic Party - progressive values.

Instead it will host a leader with white nationalists in his presidential team, who commands the support of every fascist, authoritarian, Neo-Nazi and right-wing extremist in America and across the globe. 

Trump will come into office and find common cause with the like-minded Israeli government, but this kind of hard right congruence goes much beyond Israel. In Syria, the same scenario has played out to even more devastating effect, with genocide and fascist counterrevolution on the verge of completely eclipsing the Syrian rebel forces of whom Obama once called himself a friend. 

  Read More: The Syrian rebellion: The first of Trump's many victims?

Obama posed as a friend of the Syrian opposition only to watch as they were overstretched by Assad, and then the Islamic State, allowing Iran and Russia to effectively end the chances of revolutionary victory over Assad through sheer brute, genocidal force. 

Now as Russia, having triumphed on the battlefield in Aleppo, begins a process of imposing an imperialist "political settlement" on the country, the US under Obama has been completely locked out.

All of this comes as Obama finally decided to "get tough" on Russia by expelling 35 Russian diplomats due to its interference in the US election. Obama might want to reflect on why Russia was emboldened enough to so brazenly interfere in US elections through hacking? 

Could it be because when Russia desperately tried to stop the US from acting against Assad after Ghouta, Putin saw desperation and weakness in its eyes as it readily accepted the plan to save his ally Assad? 

Could it be because as Putin smashed a Syrian rebellion that the US once claimed to support, he saw the US put its head down and do nothing, or even acquiesce to his barbaric logic over the intervention?

The world Obama leaves behind is a world that belongs to Putin and Trump

Could it be because Putin sees forces supportive of him and that he has supported, mostly fascist ones, rise in Europe without any coherent opposition? 

As with Obama's too little, too late action over Israel, his action against Russia comes at a time when, in a matter of weeks, it will all be reversed - Trump not only supports Russia's intervention in Syria, which will probably earn the US a place at the table as the Syrian opposition are politically neutralised, but he also praised Putin's reaction to Obama's punitive action over Russian interference. 

The world Obama leaves behind is a world that belongs to Putin and Trump – a world where the toothless centre and the liberal democratic order it upholds is being ripped apart by the fully fanged jaws of the populist right.

While the Obamas of the world equivocate, hesitate and triangulate, the authoritarians, post-fact populists and nascent fascists of the world continue to pursue their interests with brutal conviction.

All of these forces, whether it's Putin, Le Pen, Netanyahu, Assad, Sisi, Orban, Modi, Putin or Trump are connected by the same essential illiberal political logic – progressives have no unified response.

Obama emerged at a time when the whole world was seemingly unified in its hope for a US president that transcended the malfeasance, arrogance and criminality of the Bush era - the hope for something progressive after one of the darkest periods in modern history.

Instead, what it got was a president whose policies have for eight years incoherently straddled the lines between essential continuity with the "War on Terror" and a shift away from it. Far from engendering progressive values in the world, this has allowed its smoulderingly dangerous consequences to rapidly combust."

Sam Hamad is an independent Scottish-Egyptian activist and writer.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff. 

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