Monday, June 7, 2010

Change, illusion and the Obama presidency

by William P. Muhammad


When President Barack Obama entered into office January, 2009, it was clear the oft repeated campaign slogan of “change we can believe in” was overwhelmingly accepted both domestically and internationally. Now, 18 months into his presidency, with wars on multiple fronts, the largest environmental disaster in recent American history and an all but collapsed Middle East peace process, it is clear the honeymoon period afforded to the president in the wake of his election has come to a screeching halt.

As national and international events currently testing the Obama administration range from economic to military to environmental, none appear to have any solution or end in sight. Under the previous administration, as deregulation and corporate greed fed what became the largest economic crisis since the Great Depression, the so-called war on terror set the stage for confrontation not only on the basis of religion, but also on the basis of an unbridled and insatiable appetite for petroleum.

Furthermore, as oil profits appeared to take precedence over environmental and human rights concerns, a weak economy and continuous war have prompted the current president to stand in league with big business on one side of the equation while working to satisfy popular demands for justice and redress on the other. With America’s credibility and moral authority on the line, in a contradictory manner, the United States has both denounced and embraced corporatism, militarism and aspects of humanitarianism, all in order to preserve and promote the so-called national interest.

Regarding foreign policy, this paradox was recently witnessed in America’s weak response to a fatal commando raid, by Israel, upon a humanitarian relief convoy in international waters. Furthermore, in the name of combating “extremism,” many Muslim charities that aid beleaguered Muslim populations are similarly targeted for sanctions, if not negative propaganda, by the United States government.

In spite of Mr. Obama’s desire for a “new beginning” in the Muslim world, forces of politically motivated resistance within the United States are making that nearly impossible. As dissatisfaction at home and abroad continues to mount, America’s image overseas has suffered, particularly as conservative politicians exploit the ignorance of their constituencies and play to the basest levels of prejudice and fear.

The great divide between conservatives and progressives, as often depicted by media in terms of blue and red states, describes a much larger issue than that of simply Republicans versus Democrats. It actually exposes the strategies of those desiring to uphold an old system that is going out and the tactics required to maintain its perceived lock on power.

In the meantime, as those seeking real change become frustrated with the apparent lack of a progressive agenda, the passage of health care reform and improvements to student loan financing has been almost forgotten as the stalling created by those harboring the hard-line, tie up the legislative process.

While conservative and liberal ideologues continue to battle for the heart and soul of American policy, in order to appeal to the center-right prior to the 2010 and 2012 elections, the Obama administration has moved to the right regarding the prosecution of war, diplomacy and in fulfilling the desires of big business and finance. However, as what may be viewed as a pragmatic move for domestic consumption plays out on the international stage, the administration’s apparent desire to mollify conservatives and foreign interest groups may unfortunately backfire.

Continuing the policies of former President George W. Bush, but implementing them with softer and kinder words, creates only an illusion of change. In the face of high expectations, both inside and outside of America, the balancing act President Obama must engage in requires him to be all things to all people while actually pleasing no one. This unenviable position carries with it the burden of wanting to do the right thing, while at the same time being prevented from doing so. Thus, having his hands tied, the wiggle room Mr. Obama does enjoy forces him into compromises and watered down versions of his original campaign promises.

Making him appear weak to his supporters and two-faced to his opponents, the pressures upon President Obama often manifest themselves as realities contrasting against his original ideas. Nowhere is this felt more than beyond the shores of America, where foreign policy decisions and political agreements often take the form of bullets and bombs that far too often take the lives of innocent civilians.

In the meantime, as political pressure and staunch opposition attempt to hamstring his administration, promises take the appearance of illusions as ire mounts on each side of the political spectrum. With a conservative backlash and liberal dissatisfaction only heightening the gridlock, few are satisfied with the president’s ability to deliver as America teeters on the brink of more war, economic uncertainty and ballooning debt.

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