International

Obama’s Biggest Failure is in the Muslim World

January 20the marked Obama’s first full year in the White House. However, the anniversary gift given to him that day was ironic and anti-climactic. Not surprisingly this ‘anti-gift’ came wrapped in the Republican colours: the Democratic strong-hold in Massachusetts’ Senatorial contest surrendered to the Republican challenger, Scott Brown. The Democrats had held this Senate niche for 58 long years, much of it under the two legendary Kennedy brothers, John and Edward.

Obama’s first year in the Oval Office also drew to a close on another depressing footing: his public approval rating that soared at 68 percent a year ago has plummeted to just about 50 percent, a steep decline of 18 points.

When Obama rose to power on a majestic wave of popularity, both at home and abroad, he meant different things to different people.

To those tens of millions of voters among the Americans, from the middle class to the deprived and struggling lower income groups, he was a harbinger of change in the real sense of the term. These two classes of Americans, making up the majority of population, had suffered enormously under George W. Bush’s inane and laissez faire economic priorities that only favoured the rich and the powerful. So to the bulk of Americans reeling under the punishing onslaught of an economic melt-down that saw millions of them losing their houses because they could no longer afford to pay their mortgages, Obama looked like the prince-in-the-shining-armour who would rescue them from hell and deliver them safely to a new Garden of Eden.

But Obama was nearly as popular in the world beyond US as at home, if not more.

The European allies of US had been bamboozled and rudely brow-beaten, inexorably, by the neo con-inspired policies of Bush and hankered for change. They yearned for more sanity and balance in US military engagements and adventures abroad in which they had been hammered to get involved much against their will.

But perhaps the greatest magnetism of a fresh new face in the Oval Office worked in the Muslim world.

George W. Bush’s aggressive militarism, unleashed in the wake of the cataclysm of 9/11 was unmistakably pointed at the Muslim world, en bloc. The broad brush that 1.8 billion Muslims of the world, spread over 57 Muslim-majority states and scores of major countries where they constituted sizeable minorities, were painted with looked down upon them as terrorists or potential terrorists. The jingoistic neo cons calling the shots in the Bush administration regarded the broad spectrum of the Islamic world from behind a myopic and blinkered perception of a monolith entity, which it wasn’t and isn’t.

What alarmed the Muslim world most was the monster of pre-emptive, open-ended and clearly vindictive invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan unleashed by the Bush imperialists in the flimsy guise of ‘war against terror.’ It categorically smacked of collective punishment of the world Muslims and seemed close to proving the merchants of doom right who had been baying for long of a clash of civilizations.

So the advent of Obama was welcomed in the Muslim world as a development of positive change and a clear and perceptible desire of the Americans to make a clean break with the shoddy adventurism in which the Bush era had targeted and punished them. They hoped that Obama would be more even-handed and balancing in interaction between the Muslim world and its adversaries, principally those ensconced in the Zionist regime of Israel.

It’s true that one year, or 52 weeks, is too short a period to judge a new-comer like Obama to the Oval Office, especially given the odds working against him from day one, or even before he stepped into his high office.

It goes without saying that no US President since FDR entered the White House with such enormous challenges awaiting him as Obama. The economy was the biggest mess and the segment most directly affecting those millions of Americans who, swayed by Obama’s vision of change, had so enthusiastically voted him into office.

It’s on the economic front where Obama, a year into office, stands most vulnerable and open to criticism, largely because the benefits of his economic recovery measures haven’t started trickling down to the average American. Much of the people’s dissatisfaction with Obama and frustration over his apparent inability to make a noticeable dent in the onslaught of bad times may, however, be unjustified. Obama has addressed the economic woes laid at his door as Bush’s sordid legacy with seriousness of purpose. His economy inducement package, of more than 800 billion dollars, has revived the banking industry, which he had found on the ropes, for sure. The proof of it is that most of the big banks that were doled out money to recover and redeem themselves have started repaying the loans. And with it the deplorable corporate culture of paying its managers huge bonuses has come back with vengeance, invoking Obama’s wrath.

The American economy, on the whole, grew by nearly 3 % in 2009, which should be credited to Obama’s economic incentives.

But the Americans are an impatient people with zero tolerance when anything hurts their life-style and culture of instant gratification. It’s a society weaned on instant results. And that’s where Obama is hurting.

The biggest damning factor against Obama is rampant unemployment. 15 million Americans-10 percent of the work force-are currently unemployed. The housing market is still mired in a bind where millions can’t, still, afford to pay their mortgages because they are unemployed. The banks, whose own health has revived because of Obama’s largesse, aren’t giving loans to the consumers because of their inability to offer any collateral. So the poor are being damned from both sides: unemployment and the drying up of consumer loans.

On top of it all, US, now, is the biggest debtor country in the world, with the national debt running at a mind-boggling 12 trillion dollars.

But hurting the poor and middle class Americans most is Obama’s obvious failure to deliver on his much vaulted ambition and plan to provide health coverage to those 55 million Americans who are without any kind of medical insurance. Obama himself had anointed, and propagated, his health insurance scheme as the major plank of his presidency. Indeed the powerful backlash from the Republicans and their well-heeled conservative votaries has been putting all kinds of impediments in Obama’s progress on the issue. But Obama did, with concerted effort and despite open hostility of the Republicans, manage to secure a deal from both houses of the Congress, before 2009 came to a close, for a plan that would bring at least 30 million Americans under medical cover.

However, the loss of the Senate contest in Massachusetts to a Republican, who ran his campaign on his avowed opposition to Obama’s medical insurance plan, now threatens to rob the president of the support of 60 votes in the Senate essential for the final passage of his scheme. What an irony of fate this is going to be for Obama and his dream health legislation for the poor Americans. The scheme was the brainchild of the late Senator Edward Kennedy who had spent years of sweat and toil in piloting the bill through the maze of Congress; now the man who is succeeding him in the Senate is threatening to scuttle his dream, and of Obama, too.

But the massive disappointment of the Muslim Ummah with Obama’s lackluster performance in office pales the heartburns of the average American whose opinion is only shaped by bread-and-butter matters. The Muslim angst about Obama has a phenomenal aspect about it and could, potentially, be more divisive for the world.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the Muslim world had welcomed the first non-white occupant of the Oval Office with a Muslim name with unbound enthusiasm. The mere election of Obama had the feel of a sea-change in American attitude and dispensation toward the Muslim world, which his predecessor had maltreated like a rogue.

Obama enthralled the Muslim world with his premier decision in office, which was to shut down the notorious Gulag of Guantanamo concentration camp, of which all the inmates, without exception, were Muslim. It had the ring of a veiled retraction of George W. Bush’s collective indictment of the Muslim world.

But a year later, that first commitment of Obama is in tatters. Guantanamo is still there, with more than 300 prisoners still languishing in its haunted confines, with Obama still not being able to figure out what to do with these hapless detainees. Even if Guantanamo is eventually closed down, though one doesn’t know when might that be, there are plans on the drawing board to build a new facility in the State of Illinois to house the inmates of Guantanamo, whose suffering in a limbo remains a huge question mark on the Obama Presidency.

The American war in Iraq is petering out and though Obama is committed to pulling out the American fighting troops from there by the end of 2011 there’s no indication, yet, that all the American forces will be pulled out. It’s not an American tradition, since WWII to relinquish their military presence in a conquered or vanquished country, completely. 65 years since the end of WWII the American forces are still stationed in Germany and Japan.

The war in Afghanistan is giving all the indications of intensifying under Obama, especially with the induction of another 30,000 soldiers to beef up the fire power against the Afghan resistance. Obama, notwithstanding his Nobel Peace Prize-earned without any tangible evidence of peace-making-is proving to be as much a war president in the Afghan context as was Bush.

Pakistan, next door to Afghanistan, is witnessing a massive intensification of drone attacks, on Obama’s watch, inside its territory than was the case with Bush. This is despite the fact that more Pakistani soldiers have laid their lives in the cause of Obama’s long war-the new euphemism for Bush’s ‘war against terror.’

The Obama rhetoric at Cairo University last June has remained just that: rhetoric with no sign of delivery on his commitment to forge a new relationship with the Muslim world on the basis of equality and mutual respect. Iran, a major country of the Muslim world, is being regularly threatened with doomsday scenario by Obama himself and his coterie of advisers. Nothing is being taken off the table as much as measures to punish Iran for a crime it hasn’t, yet, committed.

The latest Muslim state being primed as a recipient of US punishment from the air, in the form of drone attacks, is Yemen, where the would-be Christmas Day suicide bomber is said to have received his training. But Yemen is also being warned that in its case, too, punishing military invasion, a la Afghanistan and Iraq, is not taken off the table, either.

But where action is long overdue, and was keenly anticipated from Obama by the Muslim world, it’s most conspicuous by its absence.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the greatest source of the Muslim world’s resentment and legitimate concern against Washington’s overt partisanship on behalf of Israel. But Obama has, thus far, miserably failed to restrain Israel from its provocative and inhuman violation of the Palestinian rights under occupation. Gaza remains the world’s largest open prison under Israel’s murderous siege. Obama hasn’t even managed to ward off the Israelis, under a jingoistic Benjamin Netanyahu, from massively expanding its illegal settlements in the occupied lands, especially in and around Jerusalem.

There is a qualitative difference between  the expectations of millions of disaffected Americans at home and those of the 1.8 billion-strong Muslim Ummah, as far as the remaining 3 years of Obama in the White House are concerned, given the improbable case of a one-term presidency for him. There can be every reasonable hope that Obama’s domestic agenda would start delivering sooner or later, especially his healthcare scheme, and the economy would bounce back to the relief of average Americans.

However, there can be no such light at the end of the tunnel for the Muslim world. History of US presidents since WWII provides not an iota of sanguinity and hope that a president seeking a second term-as Obama would certainly be looking for-would dare to stand up to special interest groups and powerful lobbies that are such an infuriating but endemic feature of American politics. The Jewish lobbies are the most powerful of these special interest groups and one will have to be recklessly optimistic and naïve to believe that Obama will take them on and take initiatives that don’t measure up to their expectations.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 February 2010 on page no. 26

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