President Obama’s farewell address focusing on the state of our democracy offered a lofty perspective coupled with a homily on the responsibility of citizenship. Thrown in were elements of legacy seized upon by numerous commentators from the left and right.
The trouble is an aloof president on a lofty perch is unlikely to get much of anything done in the rough and tumble of American politics. One can recall the vivid counter example of Lyndon Johnson and his personal arm-twisting to push through his ‘Great Society’ programs.
This president came into office in the wake of two disasters: an economic crisis caused by neoliberal policies of deregulation, and wars inherited from the neocons and George W. Bush. The first was handled with a gentle touch — no fraudsters went to jail — of weak regulation and copious financial largesse; the second with a surge in Afghanistan and eventual withdrawal of forces from Iraq.
The result has been a tepid economic recovery, its weakness allowing it to continue — the expansion not sufficient as yet to cause the usual contraction in an economic cycle. Median U.S. household income after undergoing a reduction has returned to the 2008 levels: $58,827 in 2008 to $58,221 in 2016. On the other hand, income inequality worsened as a disproportionate share of gains went to the top one percent.
On the war front, the surge failed in Afghanistan. At 15 years, the longest war in U.S. history continues as the Taliban display increased strength. Playing the ethnic card, as the U.S. did, unseated the Taliban quickly but delegitimized the central government in the eyes of the Pashtun population. It holds on ethnic plurality and an easy majority when including their kin in Pakistan across a notoriously porous and artificial Durand Line marking an ignored British colonial border. Afghanistan was part of the Mughal Empire, like India and Pakistan, before the British arrived.
Troops were withdrawn from Iraq at the latter’s behest but Special Forces are now back fighting IS/Daesh. In fact Special Forces were deployed in 138 countries globally in 2016.
This president might have inherited two wars but has bequeathed seven to his successor. An astounding 26,171 bombs were dropped last year or approximately three per hour. These are wars fought from the skies, safer in terms of U.S. military casualties, but by their nature, deadly on civilian populations.
Attempts to undermine the Trump presidency continue unabated. A dossier leaked to the press claimed the Russians had a hold on Trump through evidence of deviant sex, and in addition were going to offer profitable deals to the Trump organization. A simple question: Why would they need to offer financial inducement if they already had a hold on Trump?
Prepared by Christopher Steele, a former MI6 operative, for apparently Democrat and Republican opponents of Trump, the dossier contains almost no evidence of its assertions and was soon proven to be false. Mr. Steele meanwhile is in hiding. He believes his life to be in danger.
If all of the above is not enough, the Justice Department has announced an investigation of FBI Director, James Comey, by the Inspector General for his handling of the Clinton email affair just before the election.
While little can be remembered about Vice President Joe Biden other than plagiarism when he ran for president plus a capacity to endure the rudest insults and disrespect from Benjamin Netanyahu and his government, he has been awarded the Medal of Freedom by his dear friend Barack Obama — the nation’s highest civilian honor, becoming as depleted in value as the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to his boss. Bemedaled, he was dispatched to Ukraine. What could be more urgent than more trouble for Trump?
In the meantime, the odious and politically naive continue their confirmation hearings, proving to be either gutless or reversing Trump’s policy pronouncements in the case of Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State nominee. He is already issuing ultimatums to China and Iran seemingly unaware of their close relationship with Russia.
The old joke remains truer than ever: In America anyone can be president … and anyone usually is.
Dr Arshad M Khan (http://ofthisandthat.org/index.html) is a former Professor. A frequent contributor to the print and electronic media, his work has been quoted in the U.S. Congress and published in the Congressional Record.