The twisted road for Obama’s legacy
Barack Obama’s second term in the White House officially started with his oath taking and inaugural speech on Jan. 21, one day later than normal as the usual date of Jan. 20 fell on a Sunday. With so much unfinished business and so many unfulfilled expectations from the first term, hopes are significantly lower this time around for Obama to deal with the wide range of problems, domestic as well as global.
Although U.S. presidents usually seek a legacy in their second terms and there is some muted speculation in Washington about Obama’s possible quest for a legacy, this was not able to create a real buzz for his inauguration. Usually, second term presidents look for a foreign policy problem to solve, in the hope of getting a Nobel Peace Prize and making their imprint on global history. Well, Obama already received one in 2009, after only nine months in the office, for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” These are the exact words of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, although it is open to speculation what Obama really did in such a short space of time, apart from being elected after the much disliked and distrusted George W. Bush. Apparently, that was enough, as people across the world expected him to steer U.S. foreign policy toward more peaceful waters, following years on the warpath and years of inflammatory presidential rhetoric.
Looking through his inauguration speech, one gets the impression that Obama will be different from most of his predecessors in that he aims to secure his legacy from policies inside the country, if at all. Although several serious global issues will be calling for U.S. attention, Obama seems likely to focus more on domestic issues in the next four years. While he mentioned only a handful of international problems in his inauguration speech, his domestic agenda looked full and intense - health care, poverty, education, equality - with an emphasis on “nation-building at home.” Therefore, hopes would be in vain for U.S. engagement in solving crises like the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, Iran’s nuclear weapons ambition, and the spreading unrest in the Middle East and Africa. One of the issues where the U.S. might lead the world could be dealing with global warming, where Obama supports a transition to using sustainable energy resources to slow down the pace of the disastrous effects of climate change. This could also become a talking point for Obama in his dealings with China, another possible occupation in his second term, because the world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gases clearly need to work together to deal with such a critical problem.
As we have already seen in Libya and now in Mali, U.S. engagement in international crises will be limited, unless U.S. national interests are directly threatened. The Obama Administration does not wish to be directly involved in such crises, instead preferring to assist volunteering countries with intelligence and logistical support. Obama’s emphasis on “enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war” and his attempt to accelerate the timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan confirms his reluctance to engage in prolonged international engagements. While he declared that “a decade of war is now ending” in Afghanistan and that the U.S. is planning to handover responsibilities to the Afghan National Security Forces, the question remains as to whether the goals have been accomplished in Afghanistan. While Obama claimed that “the U.S. has achieved or come close to achieving its central goal in Afghanistan of dismantling al-Qaeda to ensure it cannot attack the U.S. again,” he seemed disregarding about the future of Afghanistan and its people. This cannot be the legacy that President Obama wishes to be remembered by.