What About the State of the Globe, Mr. Obama?
|President Obama at his State of the Union Address in January 2014|
It is appropriate for the State of the Union (SOTU) address to focus on the “Union,” but this year, as in years past, it ignored its global reach and the anticipation of international communities to hear what the President of the United States has to say and whether the priorities listed will affect their lives. In fact, Obama dedicated the bulk of his speech to the pressing issue of helping the U.S. economy move forward, limiting the wealth disparity, and education. No surprise there, these are what matter most to Americans.
In last year’s SOTU address, Obama had 42 requests of Congress, but the legislative body only acted on two of them. He has used the SOTU address throughout his presidency to call on Congress to raise the minimum wage, to move on immigration reform, to pass sensible gun controls; to close campaign finance loopholes, among other asks that fell by the wayside. For the President to stop at asking is particularly degrading. He announced in his latest SOTU address, this past Tuesday, that he will use the power of his pen “America does not stand still and neither will I so wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation … that’s what I’m going to do!” This is the least Obama can say at this point in his presidency.
There might be limited opportunity for grand ideas, for sweeping changes in this very contentious political atmosphere in Washington, but not putting up a fight will only prolong the status quo of legislative gridlock in Congress; a Congress that has earned the dubious distinction of being the worst one yet. Surprisingly, Obama announced that he will bypass Congress if he has to, in order to advance his policies through executive orders. Although such orders are limited in scope, they just might stir the political pot enough to get things done. As a result, Congress will attempt to assert itself and prove to its constituents that its members are earning their keep as they face the American people in this year’s midterm elections in November. When and only when he leverages the power of his presidency, might Obama be able to rise up to the slogan he ran to win the imagination of the American people and the White House.
“Yes, we can!” was a message of hope and for change. This same message that candidate Barack Hussein Obama intended for American voters, echoed around the world. For the son a Black, Muslim, Kenyan immigrant to assume the highest office in the most powerful country in the world surely would make the whole world a better place. Images of Obama as superman flashed in my mind as I imagined what disenfranchised people around the world must be fantasizing. Indeed, an American superhero would jump out of the pages of fiction to make better the reality of downtrodden, despondent people wherever they may be and his name- Barack Obama.
Unfortunately, this Superman chose to hide behind his cape of justice- isolating himself and retreating, to become a docile president that is obsessed with extracting the U.S. from the realities of an unstable world. All the fights Obama fought were to disengage and retreat; withdrawing the troops from Iraq and Afghanistan is not a strategy but a defeat. Albeit, not a military one, rather a defeat for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, to whom the U.S. promised improvement in their lives. Obama took pride is saying that “Today, all our troops are out of Iraq. More than 60,000 of our troops have already come home from Afghanistan. With Afghan forces now in the lead for their own security, our troops have moved to a support role. Together with our allies, we will complete our mission there by the end of this year, and America's longest war will finally be over.” This is a defeat for the U.S. as it wreaked havoc in the sandbox that is Afghanistan and then, stood by to watch locals scramble to acclimate to the powerful greedy leaders the U.S. helped prop up. Personally I was disappointed and so were many Americans.
The world is too small and the U.S. is too big to pretend that it can avoid global issues; they will come back to haunt the nation if not dealt with. Obama has extracted the U.S. from pressing global affairs to the point that Hamid Karzai is accusing the U.S. of carrying out some of the latest terrorist bombings in his country, including the assault on a Lebanese restaurant in Kabul, knowing full well that the Obama administration will try to appease him before it will try to force his hand. Syria is negotiating from a place of power, denying the basic request of allowing aid to the starving people of besieged Homs. Edward Snowden continues to reveal state secrets at will. General el-Sisi went to the Gulf countries when Obama held off on paying a promised $300million and got billions from them instead. The U.S., during Obama’s tenure, has lost the respect it once commanded.
If Mr. Obama has finally come to the realization that he has the authority and tools to exercise his will beyond the confines and limitations of Congress, he should embrace the fact that he can operate globally outside the constrictive parameters of the United Nations. This option becomes pressing when the world looks to the U.S. for action; Syria comes to mind. Action taken to stop atrocities against civilians should not need U.N. permission. To gain legitimacy, the U.S. can go to the Arab League for authorization. After all, some kind of authority will need to be gained to act globally if the U.S. wants to avoid being viewed as an imperialist power. The U.S. should continue engaging the international community provided no genocide or ethnic cleansing takes place.
To that end, the U.S. has a responsibility to take action where it can, for the greater good, to save defenseless people around the world. It is necessary for Mr. Obama and consecutive presidents to deliver similar speeches at the SOTU address, directed at the global community. This speech should address the global citizen as opposed to the current practice where a president mentions international issues to his American audience. Such a speech must be a roadmap for what the international community should expect from the U.S. Surely, the global citizen would like to know how U.S. policies would affect them, including surveillance, drone operations, energy outlook and trade orientations. The days of government-to-government talks, behind closed doors, are over. The U.S. president needs to talk to the global citizen directly and candidly, but will he do that?
Technically, Obama has two years in office, but in reality he will become a transitional president after the midterm elections in November, particularly if the Republicans become the majority in the Senate, in addition to the House of Representatives. He has a mere few months to deliver on his message of hope and change and declare “Yes, we did!”
-Walid A. Jawad