International Affairs — 15 November 2010
Obama’s Asian Tour: Lost at Home Lost Abroad

After received in his own words a “shellacking” in the midterm elections, Obama’s ten day visit to Asia didn’t really improve the situation in any way. Failing to gain currency concessions from the Germans and Chinese at the G20 summit, failure to finalise a trade agreement in South Korea and his failure to win the hearts and minds of Muslims in his former home of Indonesia, the 44th President of the United States now cuts a lonely figure at home and abroad. Elected on an agenda of “Hope and Change”, the Obama administration was expected to be transformative in nature and different from the politicians that had come before. Yet rather than “hope and change” Obama has brought more insecurity and the status quo both in his domestic policies and those he has executed on the international stage. On the domestic stage, the real benefits of healthcare reform still remains elusive for too many ordinary Americans, his attempts to reform the banks have failed to stem the culture of risk taking and bonuses on Wall Street and his stimulus package failed to invest in the long term infrastructure America desperately needs while unemployment, foreclosures and inequality remain at extraordinary high levels. Not much hope and change here for Americans crowded around the kitchen table. Internationally he has carried on zealously executing the Bush strategy, doubling troops into Afghanistan (increasing substantially drone attacks into Pakistan), maintaining the abomination at Guantanomo Bay and coddling up to Israel’s barbaric leadership. Giving speeches with lofty rhetoric as Obama did at university venues in Cairo and Jakarta citing his biography may be sufficient for political campaigns, but are no substitute for real changes in American foreign policy. No wonder former Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin could say in a recent speech with such devastating mocking effect “How is that hope-y change-y stuff going?

This failure to transform the US Presidency from a position that serves the elites and the special interests, rather than those who are the most vulnerable in society was aptly illustrated in Obama’s recent Asian tour. The tour was more geared at helping Wall Street rather than Main Street, Corporations rather than People, Elites rather than the Common Citizens . It seemed most of the tour, Obama was surrounded by representatives of big business, akin to being the President of the US Chamber of Commerce rather than the President of the United States. Even his talking points were off key and hollow. Obama blamed China for artificially keeping its currency devalued yet conveniently ignoring the fact that the US Federal Reserve has been (via quantitative easing) debasing the value of the US dollar. He blames Asian economies for not opening their markets for American companies while forgetting conveniently that protectionism in America is on the rise.  He supports India’s bid for a permanent seat on an expanded UN Security Council (presumably if they keep buying US military equipment) yet says next to nothing about that nation’s brutal occupation of Kashmir. He talks about Pakistan needing to step up its fight against militants in FATA but doesn’t address the root cause is US oppression of Pashtun areas in Afghanistan. He wants greater stability in South Asia, but doesn’t see a contradiction in arming India to the teeth with American weaponry. Obama may have campaigned in poetry in the 2008 campaign but his governing day by day is becoming more Machiavellian in nature.

But it is not just Obama who has become diminished since he was elected, the American political system has debased itself as special interests take rule as seen most vividly in the recent elections. Never in the field of political campaigns has so much money been spent by so many people advocating so few solutions. American elections and politics are now fully fledged soap operas, who’s up and who’s down, who’s winning and who’s losing, rather than about bettering the lives of people. Indeed the first thing Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell cited as a priority after the midterm elections, was not the need to solve the country’s dire budget deficit, unemployment rate or chronic infrastructure problem but to deny Obama a second term. America today is led by a bunch of minions not giants, it has a political system designed for gridlock not governing, it has a capitalist system that prioritises greed not justice. Abraham Lincoln considered by many Americans as its country’s greatest President cited in his Gettysburg address “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us. . .that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.” Obama has often been compared to Lincoln, yet America’s politicians led by Obama do not seem dedicated to finishing the work that their nation faces, do not seem up to dedicating themselves to the great tasks before them, are not prepared to replicate the sacrifice of those who gave the last full measure of devotion. No wonder most Americans think their country is in decline!

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