President Obama has spent the last year proving to the world that no matter how great the person, and no matter how great their vision, they will fail to achieve any sort of meaningful progress if the system in place opposes their goals.
Obama’s vision of a post-racial America that values its citizens’ lives, health and works to create a more just world order has been stymied at almost every turn by the realities of an internal climate of fear and a military industrial complex that seem to value profits over human lives and has worked actively to ensure that their interests, privileged by the Bush administration, go untouched by Obama’s reforms.
The first major stumbling block the president has encountered in trying to enact meaningful reform to better the lives of our citizens has been, shockingly enough, the people of the United States themselves. Eight years of neoconservative rule, marked by a steady erosion domestic freedom as well as questionable wars abroad, has managed to create a sense of constant fear. This fear is manifesting itself as a violent, racist and aggressive mentality among many in this country directed at Obama himself as well as at Democratic reforms in general.
In August, conservative political commentator Rush Limbaugh likened policies of Obama’s to those of Adolf Hitler. Equating Obama to Hitler for attempting to reform a medical system that leaves 40 million Americans uninsured is absurd and absolutely insulting to the nearly 11 million Europeans exterminated in the Holocaust. The irrational anger manifested by millions of Americans against a health care system only makes sense in the context of the atmosphere of fear created by the Bush administration since 2000, a legacy that has stifled Obama’s attempts at internal reform.
Meanwhile, Obama’s attempts to develop a more benevolent and less imperialistic presence abroad have also been thwarted.
His policy in regard to Palestine is a small but notable example. Since 1948, the Palestinians have been a stateless people violently denied their right to exist by Israeli aggression and, after 1967, occupation and settlements — both of which are illegal under international law.
In recognition of these facts, Obama shifted the policies of his predecessors, which tended to side with the Israelis in the seemingly unending Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations of the last few decades.
The shift was not great — he merely demanded that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu halt new construction in the settlements in the West Bank as a precursor to negotiations; the U.S. government currently gives Israel $2.8 billion a year in mostly military aid.
Netanyahu responded by all but rejecting Obama’s request, as his government has since announced that although it will abide by a 10-month freeze, it will still allow construction of 3,000 new housing units in the West exclusively for Jews. Though the U.S. administration hailed this temporary fix as an unprecedented step forward, it has revealed Obama’s ineffectiveness in foreign policy.
Though it remains to be seen what will come of this incident, Obama’s acceptance of this Israeli offer might tremendously damage America’s reputation tremendously across the Arab world and Muslim world, the exact people he called upon to engage with the United States and Israel in good faith during his landmark speech in Cairo months ago.
Obama is an intelligent and caring man, a fact that can be evidenced by any examination of his pre-campaign and pre-term literature. But so far, the last year has been a long series of disappointments, as his agenda of promoting stability, welfare and peace both domestically and abroad has been attacked at every corner by reactionary elements and feelings left in place by eight years of Bush rule.
Unless President Obama can find a way to win over various factions of the U.S. population still longing for a return to the Bush years and confront the enemies of peace, the military industrial complex as well as the remnants of the neoconservative movement both domestically and abroad, we are destined to see repeated failures on the part of a man who once inspired so much hope in all of us.
Alex Shams is a senior majoring in international relations.
For a different view on Obama’s first year in office, read an article by Elizabeth Sandoval.