Legacy of Obama's last presidential days

Surendra Kumar
Surendra KumarAug 12, 2016 | 09:23

Legacy of Obama's last presidential days

In 2009, when the Swedish Nobel Committee announced the Nobel Peace Prize for US President Barack Obama, most analysts shrugged their shoulders and exclaimed: "Why Obama? What has he done?"

The president himself was surprised; he said so in his acceptance speech and felt that there were other more deserving candidates.

Seven years later, as his second term inches towards its finishing line, historians are looking for an appropriate epitaph for his presidency.

Had he retired in early 2014, he would have joined the rank of presidents who completed their terms without any major mishap but achieved nothing much to write about.

But what he has achieved in the last 1,000 days of his second term, has vindicated the faith of the Nobel Committee; he has not only proved to be worthy of the Nobel Prize, given somewhat prematurely, but taken bold steps in pursuing American foreign relations which are rewriting history.


He has given dialogue and diplomacy a new chance, opened doors of friendship and normalcy with countries which long perceived the US as hostile and inimical, and refused to put American boots abroad.

This is reducing tension, resolving long-standing conflicts and making the world a more peaceful place to live in. Not a small achievement by any yardstick.

Iran is indeed his most lasting legacy. A decade ago, the media was buzzing with speculation about an imminent pre-emptive US/Israeli strike at Iran's nuclear facilities.

The Islamic Republic of Iran was not very long ago branded as a member of the Evil Axis by George W Bush and accused of pursuing a programme of nuclear weapons, promoting international terrorism and supporting terrorist groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Barack Obama and Iranian president Hassan Rouhani chipped off a little bit of the fossilised relationship between the two countries. 

Buoyed by the increase in its influence in Iraq following the fall of Saddam, Iran began propping up the beleaguered regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria with material and military support notwithstanding Obama's public demand that Bashar step down.

Resisting the temptation of striking against Iran as egged by Pentagon hawks and Israeli lobby in America, Obama resolutely supported the ongoing negotiations between Iran and P5+1.

Sometimes, seemingly simple gestures convey historic symbolism; Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's Zewish New Year greetings on his Twitter and Obama's handshake with the Iranian foreign minister on the sidelines of the UN in September 2015, first since the seizure of the US embassy in Tehran in 1979, proved game changers.

They chipped off a little bit of the fossilised relationship between the two countries. Since Rouhani's election, the pace of negotiations has picked up; he and Obama showed great foresight, pragmatism and flexibility to accommodate each other's concerns which eventually resulted in the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between Iran and P5+1 on July 14,2015.

In one stroke, Iran's nuclear research was put in a deep freeze for at least 10-15 years; the UN, US and EU sanctions were partially lifted, Iran's frozen assets were released, its crude oil was available in the market.

The thaw in the US-Iranian relations not only facilitated Iran's international rehabilitation, it also ensured Tehran wasn't pariah anymore; it is suddenly perceived as a stabilising factor in conflict zones in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.


Cuba is another significant legacy. Since the Bay of Pigs invasion/missile Crisis in Cuba (1961-62) when the US and the erstwhile USSR pulled back from the brink of a nuclear war till 2016, Cuba claims to have suffered economic loss to the extent of $300 billion thanks to the US economic blockade.

Even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US retained its sanctions against Cuba and kept it on the list of the states sponsoring terrorism.

The US' strong Hispanic community, which plays an important role in its electoral politics, was a major stumbling block in normalising America's relations with Cuba.

But in his second term, no more needing Hispanic votes for re-election, Obama authorised secret negotiations with Cuba, leading to the famous handshake between him and Cuban President Raul Castro in Panama on April 10, 2015.

Besides, creating history, it is a win-win situation for both; the US companies hope to rake in billions of dollars in business in infrastructure, ITC and hospitality sectors, while Cuba will find lucrative market for its products in the US. Above all, families affected by the estranged relations will now be able to meet each other with ease.


Obama also visited Vietnam. This tiny, impoverished nation not only survived America's napalm bombs whose debris are still littered across the country, but also inflicted a humiliating defeat on the mightiest power in the world.

While the normalisation process was initiated by President Bill Clinton, Obama, with an aim to counter an assertive China, during his visit to Vietnam in May 2016, lifted the arms embargo. Incidentally, the US is now Vietnam's major trading partner.

Equally momentous was Obama's Hiroshima visit. Visiting Hiroshima in May 2016, where "on a bright cloudless morning death fell from the sky and the world was changed", must have been Obama's boldest decision.

He didn't offer an apology but in his sombre speech expressed empathy with the families of the victims and stressed the need of "a moral revolution" and end of nuclear weapons.

Last but not least, climate change. Global impact of climate change is too obvious to miss; it poses the gravest threat to humanity.

The US never ratified the Kyoto Agreement. For years it demanded drastic reduction in carbon emission by emerging economies like China and India.

But at the COP 21 Paris Summit in November 2015, Obama turned a consummate dealmaker, used diplomatic pressure/persuasion to nudge 190 countries to come on board. There would have been no agreement without Obama.

(Courtesy of Mail Today.)

Last updated: August 12, 2016 | 09:23
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