Dear Mr Obama

U.S. President Obama delivers remarks at the My Brother's Keeper Summit in Washington

Jan Blommaert 

Dear Mr Obama,

Frankly, I’m disgusted by the show you put on during your final press conference as president of the United States of America. The highlights of that press conference – the “news”, let us say, worthy of circulating worldwide – were that you have decided that Russia influenced the US presidential elections and that you plan to retaliate; and that Russia and the Syrian government (“regime”, rather, as you never fail to emphasize) are to be blamed for what happens in Aleppo.

Fine. Let me start with the election issue. You and Mrs Clinton will forever be held responsible by people like me – a European citizen – for putting Donald Trump in a position where he could win the elections. Did Mr Putin assist that process a little? Well, he might have (like the US assisted Mr Yeltsin a little, back in the days). But let us look at what you could have done to halt Mr Trump. It is the fundamental weakness of Mrs Clinton’s candidacy, and the ease with which the Republican candidates were able to shoot holes in her and your track record during the campaign,  that cannot be erased as crucial factors moving someone like Mr Trump closer and closer to the White House. So if repair and retaliation are needed, start where you should start: at home.

Make sure, for instance, that the Democrats wage an effective and efficient political opposition against what will soon be called the Trump “regime”. Support and make alliances with the large and diverse civil society protest movements that will become a prominent feature of Mr Trump’s presidency. And make sure a better and more credible candidate is fielded four years from now. For there will certainly be more Trumps coming on in the future. Conservative billionnaires now understand that it can be done and how it can be done. And there are plenty of them in your country.

Make sure that the US re-emerges as a political force of some integrity. I have a pretty outspoken dislike of Mr Putin and the Russia he rules, for it is, in my view, built upon extreme nationalism and oil/ gas interests. Now, with the cabinet Mr Trump is putting together, the difference between Russia and the US is naught, for the Trump administration will also run on this high-octane mixture of oil and nationalism. So in the post-Trump era, which you should start preparing as we speak, your country must make a clear distinction if it intends to have any degree of credibility in the world. The US cannot claim the moral high ground it now claims vis-à-vis Russia if its governance is structured identically.

This obviously pertains to your position on and in Syria. It is a curious thing that in a war involving so many parties, you manage to put the blame – the entire blame – on just one of them. A war is, by definition, something in which both camps are armed and use their weapons to cause casualties. Yes, undoubtedly the Syrian government and Russia are guilty of atrocities harming great numbers of civilians. But the “rebels” opposing them as well. And these “rebels” – many of which are Jihadi organizations – have been doing that, for several years, with your explicit moral, political, military and material support, in search of a kind of power that, elsewhere, you love to describe as antidemocratic, barbaric, brutal and atavistic. It’s another Lybia – and that means it’s really, really bad. The American part in these dirty wars, thus, for which you and no one else bears responsibility, excludes you and your country from the moral high ground you so cherish. In a dirty war, there are no clean parties.

Your “War on terror” strategy was a simple extension of that of your predecessor in the White House. And for that reason, it, too, backfired badly. You got the Nobel Peace Prize in your first year in office because of, among other things, a new, improved, relationship with the Muslim world. Looking back after your two terms in office now, we can only say that rarely this Prize, so often abused, was awarded on more ridiculous grounds. For the situation now is seriously worse than where your despised predecessor left the White House. And no, Mr Obama, this is not just Mr Putin’s fault.

When you were elected to succeed the G.W. Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld team, this was welcomed globally, by left-of-center people such as I, as a  triumph of a new world politics – a rupture with the militarized bullying annex neoliberal expansionism that has characterized US foreign policy for decades, and has caused immeasurable suffering in large parts of the world. The higher the hopes, the deeper the disappointment, of course. Tell us: where and when was your strategy a break with the previous decades? Where did you make peace and create détente? When were people put before power and profit in the Obama Administration’s world? Or more concretely: has the world really become “safer”, as you argued, after the killing of Osama bin Laden, the ousting of Ghadaffi and the dislodging of Assad – all of which happened on your watch?

It is very sad that you used your final presidential press conference to expose the failures of your presidency, its weak sides, the parts of it that cannot possibly count as positive contributions to world politics. You leave office now with a level of tension between your country and Mr Putin’s unmatched since the days of Reagan and the end of the USSR, and with an entirely destablilized Middle East where more people suffer and die than ever before in the past decades. Those are not the finest pages in your book, Mr Obama. Certainly not when your successor is called Donald Trump.

No one can take some of your achievements away, but these failures also stand firm. What ex-president Obama can do – and should have initiated yesterday in his final presidential press conference – is to announce hope for a post-Trump era. You are quite good at that. And giving people hope for improvement, and actively working towards that goal, just might make you a great US president after all.

Oh, and in case you wonder why I, a European, believe I can speak out on this (Mr Trump might say it’s just none of my business), here is one reason. The Wall Street Journal announced a couple of days ago that your government has decided to bring 1,600 US tanks to an old Cold War dépot in The Netherlands. That is the area where I live and work, incidentally. The tanks that embodied, for so many Europeans of my generation, the fear of war and destruction, are back, and Europe is once more defined as a theater for large-scale armed conflict. With Donald Trump becoming the Commander-in Chief of these forces just about one month from now, I don’t feel safe.

So, yes, Mr Obama, this is, seriously, my business.




Author: jmeblommaert

Taalkundig antropoloog-sociolinguist, hoogleraar Taal, Cultuur en Globalisering aan Tilburg University. Politiek publicist.

One thought on “Dear Mr Obama”

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