Fredi Magazine Winter 2016 / Volume 2 Issue 2 - Page 29

Obama' s greatest accompl ishment "There’s a playbook in Washington that presidents are supposed to follow,” Obama told Goldberg. “(It) prescribes responses to different events, and these responses tend to be militarized responses. Where America is directly threatened, the playbook works. But the playbook can also be a trap that can lead to bad decisions.” To this day, many see “the line in the sand” as one of the greatest failures of his presidency but it’s worth noting that, under American pressure, Assad later agreed to remove all chemical weapons. It was a triumph of diplomacy, and it was just one example of a uniquely thoughtful and level-headed approach that would define Obama’s foreign policy. That may not sound as consequential as a great military victory but in a part of the world already ravaged by war, his restraint likely mattered more than action. III. THE TRAPPINGS OF THE PRESIDENCY Obama never had any illusions that he would be able to fix all of America’s problems, as if a health system, or climate change, or gun violence, or mass incarceration, or illegal im- migration, or unemployment were a leaky faucet. You can’t turn a country on a dime, and though eight years is basically that, Obama has done an admirable job. But as important as the wins are, there will always be people who remember the president for his failings, and it would be a mistake to believe that those failings will always fall under the shadow of his accomplishments. After George Bush enacted the Patriot Act following 9/11, the National Surveillance Agency expanded to become the most massive intelligence-gathering operation ever, violating basic rights of U.S. citizens along the way. Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who revealed those violations, was prosecuted under the 1917 Espionage Act – an act that Obama has used to prosecute more than twice as many whistleblowers as all previous U.S. presidents combined. The executive use of military drones has spiked, in Pakistan for example by 700%, and their use has bred immeasurable fear and hatred towards the west. Then there’s Guantanamo Bay. Since its inception, the military prison has been a den of human rights violations where suspected enemies of the U.S. have been held indefinitely without the possibility of a trial. Obama promised in his first term to close the prison and remains committed to moving prisoners out, but it now seems impossible that it will ever close. Trump, as will come as a surprise to no-one, has vowed to keep the prison open and fill it with “some bad dudes.” When we talk about these failures, it’s not enough to say Obama tried to do better. They happened under his watch. Whether they were byproduct of the unstoppable march of technology and the growing popularity of a ‘do whatever it takes to keep America safe’ attitude (as one could argue is the case with the executive use of drones), or a Gordian knot of legal and bureaucratic problems (as is the case in GTMO), he still bears responsibility for them. Such is the burden of the presidency. And when we remember the great strides Obama has taken to make healthcare more equitable, to combat climate change, or to change the way the rest of the world looks at the U.S., we will hopefully remember that he carried that burden gracefully. fredi winter 2016 • 29