KARACHI: The conciliation policy of former US president Barack H. Obama, his failures to turn his vision for change into reality, the revival of industries that benefited his opponents, primarily those who were responsible for a budget deficit, more than his supporters, his inability to take a stand and pick a fight are some of the factors that contributed to the victory of Donald Trump in the US elections, said Ambassador Karamatullah Khan Ghori on Saturday evening.
The ambassador, who began his career from the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs and later served as ambassador in Kuwait, Iraq, Turkey and other Middle East countries, was delivering a talk at the institute on ‘The Legacy of Barack Obama’.
Mr Ghori said Obama would be remembered in history as a phenomenon. But “after Trump, I am mentally prepared for any accident,” said Mr Ghori, “as it’s no less an accident that he was [preceded] by a man of colour.” The first black president who came for change was followed by Trump, he added. According to him, Obama came to turn Martin Luther’s slogan “I have a dream” into a reality. He started his career as a reformer who later turned into a politician.
The former president shot to prominence in 2004. His keynote speech in 2004 set the tone of what was to come under him as US president. In that historic well-articulated speech, Obama said: “There’s not a liberal America, not a conservative America, but the United States of America.” He believed in consensus building since the beginning of his career. He was never the one to pick a fight. But that’s his weak area too in multiple ways, noted the ambassador. His slogan was “Yes, we can.” But here emerged the gap between Obama’s thought and that of his followers and those who were impressed by his articulation and rhetoric and believed that he was harbinger of change.
Coming back to the topic, Mr Ghori said: “Trump is Obama’s legacy,” because the latter couldn’t fulfil the aspiration of his followers. He said the unfolding of events during his eight-year rule showed that in the policy of conciliation with his opponents his core supporters were deeply disappointed. But then the fractured economy was the first and foremost issue that Obama had to deal with. When his predecessor came to power, he inherited an economy with one trillion dollars in surplus. But the expensive wars resulted in the budget deficit of two trillion dollars at the time when Obama came to power. Obama successfully revived the US economy by the end of his first term. And by the end of his second term, he had managed to reduce the budgetary deficit to 12.5 per cent.
Until 2010, he said, the Democrats commanded absolute supremacy in both houses. But things started changing after the 2010 midterm elections in the US when the Republicans got an overwhelming majority in both the houses.
Mr Ghori said Obama had visible handicaps in the arena of politics because of his complexion and name. Being a person with Hussein as his middle name, he was looked at with scepticism by the likes of Trump, many Christians and conservatives. He failed to balance US foreign policy that he had promised. On the first day, he announced that Guantanamo Bay would be closed but by the end of his term, the infamous detention centre was still there, he added. His speech at Cairo University at the very outset of his tenure in which he promised to bridge a widening gap between Muslims and non-Muslims lent strength to the scepticism against his respect for Muslims like the followers of any other religion. His opponents did make use of such handicaps to their advantage. According to the ambassador, the disagreement between Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on the settlements issue did surface in the media but with the Republicans having a majority in Congress, he couldn’t stop Israel from building more homes.
The ambassador reiterated that Obama never believed in picking a fight, as he was a reformer, a bridge builder. But with such an approach, he ended up in a situation where his opponents became strong and his hardcore followers disappointed. Denying 77 per cent requests filed by ordinary citizens for access to information and the policy of conciliation with the Republicans, who never missed a chance to fail him, moved many of his supporters away. Yet Obama efficiently navigated through the troubled waters as he became one of the few presidents of the US who came clean when they left the Oval Office after the eight-year rule. This was no mean achievement that he didn’t have a single scandal despite all the handicaps he had, and a Congress dominated by Republicans.
Despite the transparency that he maintained in the state affairs, the goal of even-handedness in foreign policy could not be achieved, said Mr Ghori. Having learnt lessons from the fallout of US intervention in Libya and Iraq that in fact benefited the US nemesis, Iran, the most, Obama’s doctrine was that the US should enter wars only where it could make a visible difference, he said.
He agreed with an audience member that Democrats committed a blunder by fielding Hilary Clinton against Trump, as Hillary was seen as an establishment figure with lots of skeletons in the cupboard. This was portrayed as a double jeopardy for conservatives.
Obama should have taken a stand and picked a fight, not the one picked by the loose cannons like Trump. All this resulted in the election of a face like Trump who has closed down Obamacare, the affordable medical care policy in the US, badly affecting 20 million Americans. Trump is himself shortening his tenure by taking such measures. His phone conversation with the Australian prime minister is an example of Trump’s unexpected moves, which can turn friends into foes.
All major malls in the US are filled with goods made in China. If the Trump administration kept building barriers and walls in the hope to create a job market for the Americans by keeping immigrants out of the country, it would eventually hit the corporate sector, which needs affordable efficient labour to succeed in the global market.
The street protests in the US are just a reflection of a backlash that the Trump administration would face due to his policies, Mr Ghori noted.
Published in Dawn February 5th, 2017