For President Barack Obama to enjoy around 55 percent support among Americans according to the latest polls, a few weeks before the election of the new president, is a very interesting phenomenon. It is interesting especially as America’s international credibility wanes and prestige tumbles to the extent that a Yemeni militia subservient to Iran managed to target one of its navy’s ships three times within the space of a few days.
The ends of US presidential terms, moreso the penultimate and last terms, usually point to voters getting tired of the boss in the White House. Even ultra-charismatic presidents like Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton failed to achieve the popularity of Obama, if we are to believe the latest polls, near the end of their sojourns in the Oval Office. Indeed, the 55 percent figure is much higher than the figures achieved by either of the two current candidates, the Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump. So what is the secret behind Obama’s continuing popularity within America, while losing his glitter abroad, even reaching unprecedented lows in regions like the Middle East?
Most likely, there are two very important reasons. The first, is that Obama has succeeded in securing a social and economic safety net inside America, mainly in the fields of healthcare, employment, economic upturn and improvement in living conditions after the pains suffered by ordinary Americans during the financial crisis of 2008-2009 and its repercussions. In democracies, it is a well-known fact that a voter passes judgement on his/her elected leaders based on how they directly affect his/her direct interests, regardless of anything else.
This why Bill Clinton defeated George Bush senior in 1992 when he raised the slogan “It’s the economy, stupid!” while Bush and his lieutenants were congratulating each other after the “liberation of Kuwait” in 1991. Then, Obama won the presidency in 2008 under the charming banner of “Change” which rejected both the entanglement in Iraq and the crippling financial crisis that forced a Republican laissez faire – driven administration to carry out the temporary nationalization of banks, industrial companies and home-loan and mortgage groups.
It would be naïve to expect Hillary Clinton to dump Obama’s Middle East policies; however, one expects her to be less shackled by JCPOA with IranEyad Abu Shakra
The second reason, related to the above, is that Americans are getting sick and tired of political involvement and military adventures abroad and are becoming inclined instead to look inwards and concentrate on issues close to their livelihood. Thus, what many – especially in the Middle East – regard as Washington’s letting down of, if not betrayal of, its global allies, this is viewed as wise and prudent policy by ordinary American voters who cannot see why their children should die in foreign lands.
In addition to these two reasons, one might add the fact that the Republican Party, which is supposed to provide the ideological alternative to the Democrats, has gone too far in giving in to the extreme Right, whether within the party establishment or the erstwhile marginal extremist outsiders who have managed to infiltrate its organizations. These extremists – including the Tea Party group and ultra-fundamentalist Evangelists and White Supremacists – have penetrated the Republican Party structure, taken over most of its networks and imposed their political agendas on it.
Failing to stay true to the path
Today it is a fact that the Republican Party may be anything but the party of Abraham Lincoln. In fact, the mere term “Lincoln’s Party,” which Republicans love to parrot during their rallies and major events, is an insult to the great man who defended the Union and broke the back of slavery in the second half of the 19th century.
If proof is ever needed, one cannot go further than how ultra-fundamentalist Evangelist and racist votes in the Old South states have turned these states into Republican strongholds, noting that the American Civil War (1860-1861) in which the Republican Lincoln defeated the Southern Confederates had virtually eliminated his party’s presence there almost until the Second World War. Indeed, the Party did not recover its presence in the South except when it became the vehicle of the conservative Right facing the Left-bound Democrats toward… Liberalism.
On November 8, American voters will elect a new president who won’t take office before January 20, 2017. It is quite likely that regardless of who wins, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will adopt policies different from those of Barack Obama.
Despite the obvious differences; if Clinton wins she’ll be the first woman-president and if Trump does he will be the first outsider who has never been elected to political office, the personalities of both candidates and political cultures – as divergent as they are – as well as their vision of America and its role in the world differ markedly from Obama’s personality, culture and vision. Clinton and Trump, for example, do not necessarily believe that America is an arrogant and aggressive Super Power that needs to apologize to its enemies and turn against its old allies.
Clinton and Trump are also less reliant on small cliques of ‘mafias’ of close advisers and associates, while more committed to broader party consensuses; Clinton with Congressional blocs and Liberal lobbies, and Trump with business, industrial and conservative religious lobbies.
Having said this, it would be naïve to expect Hillary Clinton to dump Obama’s Middle East policies; however, one expects her to be less shackled by JCPOA with Iran, or to continue the ongoing collusion with Tehran against Washington’s traditional allies in the Arab World and West Asia. On the other hand, ‘President’ Trump, in spite of his controversial stances – including how he views Russia – is expected to adopt different approaches to Obama’s and his political ‘kitchen’ towards the Arab World, Middle East, Islam, terrorism, and America’s policies with its foes and what is left of its friends.
On November 8, a painful page for the Arab world but a good one to 55 percent of Americans will be turned in Washington, and although the decision is American and so is the main and direct interest, we – Arabs – are entitled to honestly tell the American voter that in foreign policy you harvest what you plant, and the bad seeds that President Obama has planted shall bear bad fruits in the future.
It is then the judgement of history on his presidency and political legacy that will be more truthful and objective.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Oct. 26, 2106.
Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with Annahar newspaper in Lebanon. He joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances. Eyad tweets @eyad1949SHOW MORE