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Obama’s 8-year tenure lacks balance between principles and actions

The Yomiuri ShimbunBringing the people together as America’s first black president, while pursuing peace through international cooperation. He has been preeminent for his lofty ideals and integrity but nonetheless he cannot avoid blame for bringing about divisions in American society and instability in the international order.

U.S. President Barack Obama, who is to step down shortly, made his final address during his 8-year tenure, appealing to the nation the strength of his country’s diversity and said emphatically, “Yes, we did.”

In dealing with an economic crisis immediately after he took office, he hammered out the establishment of a financial stability fund and measures to rescue the U.S. auto industry, building the foundation for the U.S. economic recovery. In spite of such achievements, he was unable to win broad support, probably because he left the expanding economic gap as it was.

While the wealthy benefited from rising real estate and stock prices, the incomes of middle-class people did not increase. Meanwhile, public opinions were split down the middle over health care insurance reform (or Obamacare) that aimed at realizing a universal health insurance plan, further dividing the people.

Voters’ discontent with the current state of affairs led to the victory of Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election in November. Poor policy management by Obama might have lain behind the Trump phenomenon, whereby people went crazy over Trump’s exhortations to break with the existing politics.

In foreign and national security policies, Obama denied the unilateral approach taken by the administration of his predecessor, George W. Bush, and attached importance to solving issues through dialogue based on the spirit of cooperation.

International record mixed

While isolating Iran with economic sanctions, Obama put the brakes on Iran’s nuclear development program through an agreement based on multinational negotiations. Also considered among his achievements are the Paris Agreement on measures to fight global warming, and restoration of U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba following a 54-year freeze.

Advocating his policy of a “rebalance” to Asia, Obama made efforts to reinforce the Japan-U.S. alliance, promoting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade pact while acting as a go-between in Japan-South Korean relations. Such efforts of his, together with his visit to the atomic-bombed city of Hiroshima as the first serving U.S. president to go there, deserve praise.

The biggest problem lies with his having taken a passive stance on the maintenance of international order, centered around the United States. Having shelved taking military action against the use of chemical weapons by the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, the Obama administration was unable to wield its influence in ending the civil war there.

Following Obama’s announcement that “The United States is not the world’s policeman,” there was an increase in “changes in the status quo by force,” such as Russia’s annexation of Crimea and China’s building of military bases on manmade islands in the South China Sea. The U.S. presence has clearly declined, while its nuclear disarmament talks with Russia have fallen apart.

The large-scale withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq created a “power vacuum” in Iraq, allowing the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militant group. His administration was unable to keep North Korea from advancing its nuclear and missile development programs. These can be counted among his faults.

Trump rejects Obama’s political legacy and adopts the principle of “America First.” Will he be able to have the United States recover its leadership while remaining devoid of the principles of democracy? A grave challenge remains.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 12, 2017)Speech



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