Is it time when we started discussing Barack Hussein Obama’s legacy? Maybe, or may not be. But one cannot help but notice that the American president has faced more than his fair share of disasters and an unending barrage of criticism from across the political divide. So well pronounced was the hostility within their political and intellectual spheres that Americans have let world leaders meddle in their internal debates twice.
First it was Vladimir Putin’s article in The Washington Post against a proposed intervention in Syria. Regardless of the debate surrounding the morality of the proposal, we know how dedicated the Russian president is to matters of territorial sovereignty of independent states and to principles of democracy. If the Crimean invasion was not enough, hopefully you have not forgotten that his arch political nemesis has recently been assassinated. The second blow came recently when the prime minister of America’s closest ally, Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, chose to address the US Congress to warn Americans against Obama’s “bad deal” which aims to engage Iran. Now I know Iran does not have an ideal human rights record nor a perfect regional posture, but look who is talking. If you have forgotten the piles of bloodied, broken corpses of children in Gaza, that’s your bad, but what kind of an idiot risks his relationship with his country’s biggest benefactor to just win an election?
I tell you, my criticism of Netanyahu has nothing to do with anti-semitism. In the past decade since 9/11 many among the moderate Muslim majority have struggled to come to terms with our status as the new Jews. Hounded by our extremist co-religionists and confronted by a world suspicious of our intentions, I tell you it is an excruciatingly unenviable position. And this is barely an experience of a few years and a decade. Do you think it is hard to appreciate what people must have gone through during and after centuries of this kind of persecution? Had it not been for the reactionary few like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, no one would have been wasting time in Holocaust denial and similar stupid pursuits in Muslim countries.
No, it is about reminding the prey the virtues of not becoming the predator when it gets a chance. Netanyahu didn’t even spare a thought to the idea that at least some among those who were cheering his diatribe against Obama in Congress were doing so out of the same racial prejudice that led Hitler and his regime to persecute his own people less than a century ago. Just think for a moment of Netanyahu and Putin and now think of Obama. Who among them deserves to be ostracised in this manner? Certainly not Obama. The thing is, great powers always have the capacity to do both great good and great evil. America is no exception. And yet the lofty ideals of multicultural pluralism, democracy, inclusiveness and tolerance make it an exceptional power. It is easy to find fault in any leader. Man by nature is an imperfect creature. But after suffering through eight years of George W Bush and neo-con rule, when you get an intelligent, conscientious leader as the ruler of the world’s strongest democracy, it is hard to find an excuse to complain.
Obama’s policies may have been far from perfect but he is a symbol of what is best in America. A non-white living in the White House. A self-made man who proved his mettle before rising to the top. A president who had to endure terrible pressure owing to the follies of his predecessor. Someone who did not believe in the left and right divide in these terribly polarising times. A man ahead of his time perhaps, but a man well suited for the job nevertheless.
In abandoning such an excellent example of Americanism, America risks abandoning what is best in it. In letting world politicians bait Obama in his own country, America only embarrasses itself. It is about time this was realised. The world today has become an iffy place. It can afford to lose a great power, this great power, but not the ideals it has stood for. Both Putin and Netanyahu got what they wanted: the distraction to hide their follies. But in the end it is for the Americans to know what is good for them.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 21st, 2015.