By Mayukh Bhadra Chowdhry
Edited by Nidhi Singh, Junior Editor, The Indian Economist
From emerging in January, 2009 as the embodiment of a new dawn of hope and resurgence in the economy and politics of the greatest democracy in the world, one that promised to show Americans the power in the audacity of hope, to June 2014 where in his second and final term as the President of the United States, Barack Obama now faces the ire and discontent of Americans suffering from the yoke of slow paced growth and unimpressed by meek foreign policy. Obama (or Bam as he is commonly referred to) has had a tough month with his approval ratings plummeting to a near personal low of 41% (as per leading polling groups like Gallup and YouGov). So why exactly has the popularity within his country, of the man touted as the vanguard of the new face of America suddenly seen such low ravines. The answer to that is two fold, the reasons being the long term ramifications of Obama’s socialist agendas and economic policies along with the immediate fallout of the Bowe Bergdahl crisis and the situation in Iraq.
The Bowe Bergdahl crisis for one, has been nothing short of dramatic. Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, a US Army soldier was the last prisoner of war in Afghanistan. Taken captive by the Haqqani network in Afghanistan (which has ties with the Taliban) in June, 2009 he was released in May 2014 after negotiations which resulted in President Obama agreeing to swap five high ranking members of the Taliban detained in the infamous Guantanamo Bay facility in exchange for Bergdahl. The US media and Republicans alike were not in the least hesitant to launch a scathing blitzkrieg of criticism directed towards Obama for the controversial aspects of the swap, which by all means seems to be extremely detrimental to America’s interest, in terms of the price that had to be paid to secure Bergdahl’s release. Senator John McCain, Obama’s principal opponent in the 2008 presidential elections called these five prisoners ‘‘the hardest of the hardcore’’ who are ‘’possibly responsible for the death of thousands’’. Images of sea-facing posh villas in Qatar, where the five detainees with American blood on their hands are now staying, videos of them being welcomed back in Qatar and of goats being sacrificed in Afghanistan in celebration rampantly made their way into every newspaper and TV channel, stoking the simmering public outrage amidst uncertainty as to whether diplomatic inaptitude led to the swap deal being so skewed against the US, so as to let free these men who could potentially contribute to anti-American extremist efforts. What is probably more significant to what this article deals with is that, Obama who is strongly against the violation of human rights is known to be anti-Gitmo, having promised to shut down the facility in 2008, and this has led to widespread chatter in the American media and populace that the President’s views on Guantanamo may be providing a bias which undervalues the cost for the swap which is phenomenal by most standards. While Obama strongly defended the move by saying that it had nothing to do with politics, but is part of a basic American principle that the country doesn’t leave behind it’s soldiers, the controversial crisis gained even more mileage as Bergdahl’s colleagues in the army who served with him at Afghanistan called him a deserter whose ‘‘selfish act’’ ended up costing the lives of better men. According to first hand accounts from soldiers in his platoon, Bergdahl while on guard duty, shed his weapons and walked off from the base with at least six soldiers being killed in subsequent searches for him. Fed by media frenzy, with big media houses like CNN comparing Bergdahl to fictional character Adrien Brody from the hit HBO series “Homeland” (-who returns to the US after years of captivity and hatches a terrorist plot due to his changed allegiance) the internet and other forms of social media went abuzz with thousands viewing Bergdahl (completely unjustifiably as such) as a traitor. Thus the end result was a common perception of Obama as a weak President who had let the Taliban boss him into a deal for five kingpins in exchange for a single soldier – that too one of questionable character.
To exacerbate Obama’s precariously weak standing amongst the people even further, the Iraq crisis proved to be another opportunity for criticism. As the Sunni jihadist group ISIL, (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) which has ties to the Al-Qaeda, marched it’s extremist soldiers towards Baghdad having already seized vast parts of Iraq, the fractious, unstable Iraqi State created by the American led invasion of 2003 looked set to fall. Having recently announced with pride the successful withdrawal from a “sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq”, the President found himself in a Catch-22 deadlock which would lead to criticism either way i.e whether he decided to send Americans back to Iraq to help fight against ISIL or not. Having captured the presidency in part because of his opposition to the Iraq war and his promise to wind it down, Obama had to take the hard decision of deploying up to 300 military advisers to Iraq to help it’s struggling security forces fend off a wave of Sunni militants. As expected, a barrage of questions started flooding the Oval Office from the Republicans and the media alike. Why did Obama not leave behind residual US forces in Iraq to combat extremists ? Was Obama’s rushed withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, responsible for bringing about the war-like separatist pandemonium ? Amid this volley of criticism flowing in rapidly, and in copious quantities; what the world and Americans alike saw again was a leader whose foreign policy and stature with respect to International conflicts can be described as shaky at best.
These two issues however are only the tip of the iceberg. The entire reason behind the fall of Obama’s image is vast and layered. Foreign policy gaffes have preceded both the Bergdahl crisis and the fight against ISIL. The 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Obama seems to be someone who wants it both ways; to be a tough minded pragmatist who puts the interests of the Homeland at the forefront, but also to be an idealistic vanguard of world issues ( like other Presidents ) sacrificing American lives to defuse crisis’ elsewhere. The Syrian crisis where Obama famously drew the ‘red line’ of the use of chemical weapons, as a threat to Assad, proved to be a sucker punch to America’s credibility as they did not take sufficient action which Obama had promised even after that line was crossed. However more than the nation’s stature, irreparable damage was done to Obama’s reputation when he made the disingenuous remarks saying that it wasn’t him who had set a red line, the world did. The American sentiment went a lot like : Yes Mr. President, we heard you the first time. The fact that the President didn’t follow through with his threat undermines the nation’s ability to deter Iran, North Korea and the likes in the future. Obama again tripped up during the Crimea crisis with ineffective and personal sanctions against a belligerent Russia, and his inability to garner anti-Russia support unanimously across Europe. In all, the President’s gaping shortcoming is a cardinal one for any person in a position of power, a lack of decisiveness and strong will to carry out one’s words – and not leave them at meaningless rhetoric. This is more damaging when it is juxtaposed to the ruthless pragmatism of charismatic leaders like Russia’s Putin and Germany’s Merkel. Pivotal foreign relations like ones with Germany, being ruined because of the US spying on their administration and being caught in the act, has further diminished the traction Obama commands.
Less far from home Obama has suffered the people’s ill will with his socialist economic policy making. His pet project Obamacare which plans to provide health insurance to all was widely unpopular even before it’s inception because of it being an impediment to laissez-faire running of the insurance market and excessive government intervention, along with the humongous cost it would impose on the nation’s coffers. Now that it is operational, it’s performance has been extremely lacklustre with common people having signed up for it, realising that a majority of local doctors and hospitals even refuse to accept Obamacare due to the hassle of collections and delays. Along with this comes the concern that cost effective insurance covers provided by unions across the country will now be rescinded. Obama’s environmental agenda has meant his strong advocacy for cleaner fuels and carbon reductions. Even Democrats having coal mine workers in their constituencies – who stand to lose their jobs, have had to take a stance against these reforms with uncertainty as to whether the green belt will create more jobs than the ones lost in the coal sectors. Barack Obama’s reign has made three aspects of his belief’s very clear to everyone, indirectly, through his policies and actions. He is someone who is against imperialism, a socialist who believes in uplifting women and minorities. The reason why Obama has managed to be re-elected is the work that the Obama administration has done for women, establishing equality in wages and salaries with respect to men, backing abortion rights etc. In a country with a female to male ratio of 1.05 Obama has played his cards well to keep the electoral support of women. His stance on gay and lesbian rights have led to him gaining their support as well. However as Americans start realising the extent of their downfall in International influence and the fact that America keeps funnelling the money saved from pulling out of wars, into socialist programs in the States which don’t generate any growth, and stimulus packages for deprived countries in Africa and elsewhere, one wonders if now even these groups will renounce their allegiance to Obama. After all sociological ideology is not the be-all and end-all of administration, that too of a nation as significant as the United States. As Winston Churchill (bless the man) had famously said, “There is no such thing as public opinion. There is only published opinion.” In the liberal West the same media that catapulted Obama into the vaults of historic greatness when he assumed power now derides him (arguably with good reason to do so). The wave of opinion against him has surely meant one thing. Obama isn’t that same figure of hope and spirit that he was with people wondering whether the man has actually done anything to consolidate his famous words “Yes, We Can.”
Mayukh is a third-year student of St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata. Currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Economics, Mayukh is someone who believes, that learning extends to exploring a plethora of interests which are mostly found outside prescribed curriculums. He enjoys all forms of public speaking and has represented his school and college successfully at several national level debates. His passions include food, football ( a self-proclaimed die-hard Manchester United fan ), economics, social policy and anything that involves debate and argument.