NEW YORK – Perhaps one of the most important questions globally now is who the real Barack Obama is, and what to expect from him from now on, particularly after the death of Osama Bin Laden.
Few presidents in the history of the United States have inherited a worse general situation than the one Obama inherited from President George W. Bush. One can mention two wars, those in Iraq and Afghanistan, a major economic decline, caused largely by those wars, a high level of unemployment and a climate of widespread despair. These situations explain in part the decision of the American people to elect Obama as president because, in the debates previous to the election, he was the candidate who had proved to be more consistent on his viewpoints and better prepared to assume this serious commitment.
No one can speak of the achievements or failures of Obama without mentioning the factors or groups that brought him to power and who condition his actions.
Among the groups of influence, or power, perhaps the most notorious is the so-called military-industrial complex, about which former Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower had warned in his farewell address as U.S. president. Today, more than then, the military-industrial complex has a marked influence on the decisions of the president. Many people, disillusioned with the actions of Obama, lament the lack of enforcement of his campaign promises and his lack of principles.
Personally I disagree with that point of view. I think Obama has clearly rooted principles, as it is demonstrated in the constant struggle he has with his political enemies, including those in his own party.
But I also believe that, above all, Obama is a weak president. This is not in the sense of personal weakness; on the contrary, I think he is personally strong. Rather, it’s the fact, generally little analyzed, that inwardly Obama knows that he cannot deal openly and strongly with his opponents because the moment he does so, he will bring out the worst features of American racists who will make it impossible for him to carry out his plans.
I believe that, despite differences between them, Obama is along the lines of Jimmy Carter, one of the more progressive U.S. presidents. Like the nightmare that Iran was for Carter, Obama has to face the tremendous challenge posed by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although theoretically the Iraq war has ended, its aftermath remains, including violence that every week costs tens of victims and a country still in chaos. In addition, Iraq has also the largest U.S. embassy in the world and the most expensive to maintain.
In Afghanistan, only the total withdrawal of U.S. troops can eventually lead to a state, if not of peace, at least of less chaos and bloodshed.
The power of the U.S. military-industrial complex has increased over time. This explains why Obama has been unable to reduce military expenditures or commitments of the U.S. military. It is conceivable that the death of Osama Bin Laden will now enable faster withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
Other factors also influence the actions of the U.S. president, including the power of Wall Street and that of the international financial institutions. Among the latter, probably one of the most powerful is the exclusive Bilderberg Club, whose members are politicians, government ministers, international financiers, bankers and leaders of the most powerful media in the United States and Western Europe.
Although, theoretically, U.S. power is in the hands of the president, he is under the influence of the military-industrial-financial complex (MIFC), which also directly and indirectly impacts the legislative and judicial branches of the U.S. government. Lobbies belonging to the pharmaceutical industry, farmers, national and multinational corporations — groups that respond to foreign interests and media outfits and so forth — represent a veritable “spaghetti bowl” of influences that partly explains the difficulties that Obama faces in carrying out the government agenda that he originally proposed.
One can see how difficult it is for Obama to eliminate government subsidies to oil companies, whose current earnings are skyrocketing, or his inability, particularly when the House of Representatives is in Republican hands, to increase taxes on the richest people in the country while Republicans threaten to eliminate or lower the most basic social benefits to the most vulnerable sectors of the population.
Despite the difficult situation he inherited and the stark opposition not only from Republicans, but also from some Democratic lawmakers, Obama has had significant achievements. These include expanding the coverage of the health system; overcoming, at least temporarily, the economic crisis; signing a nuclear arms treaty with Russia and withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.
These results show Obama as a pragmatic and realistic individual who prefers incremental achievement of his policies and wants to avoid unnecessary confrontations, taking into account the difficult circumstances that he has to confront.
Cesar Chelala, M.D. and Ph.D., is a co-winner of the Overseas Press Club of America award.