Friday, 3 January 2014

The USA and the world from 2009 to 2016. A more multipolar world?

President Barak Obama (2009-2017)

During the two-term presidency of Barak Obama (January 2009 to January 2017), US hegemony continued to be challenged by Islamist terrorist groups, especially Islamic State.

The dominant position in the world of the USA was also undermined by:
  • the economic downturn following the financial crisis of 2008 (the “Great Recession”);
  • the trade deficit (the USA imported more than it exported);
  • the high public debt and private debt levels;
  • rising inequality in the USA;
  • the economic might of transnational corporations (taking power away from the Federal Government);
  • anti-globalization NGOs and mouvements (for example the Occupy Wall Street protests);
  • the rise of the BRICS countries, on an economic level (within the WTO too) and, increasingly, at a geopolitical level;
  • the cost of financing the “military-industrial complex;
  • the proliferation of nuclear weapons;
  • the proliferation of biological and chemical weapons (that are cheap and readily available to terrorist groups and to states like Syria);
  • the situation in North Korea and the Middle East;
  • deteriorating relations with Russia (especially after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, its attacks on Ukraine and its support of the Hassad regime in Syria);
  • organized crime (and the drug trade).

The world became increasingly multipolar, the USA having/wanting to share decision-making more with other centres of power: the Russian Federation, China, and, to a lesser extent, Europe. The bipolar world of the Cold War period (and the clearly unipolar world during the Clinton-Bush Jr. years) appeared to some less unstable than the more multipolar world under Obama.

Barak Obama, elected in November 2008, became the 44th President of the USA on 20 January 2009. His message, at the height of the financial crisis, was one of boosting national confidence: “Yes we can!” was his electoral slogan. For many, the American Dream had become a nightmare: increased poverty, social unrest and violence (lack of gun control), ever greater disparities between the wealthy and the poor, worsening health (and difficulties in implementing a workable national healthcare system), etc.

Hillary Clinton was the Secretary of State (head of the Department of State) during Obama’s first term (2009-13). She made efficient use of “smart power”, a pragmatic mix of diplomatic, legal, military, economic and “cultural” means to implement the Obama Administration’s foreign policy. Obama’s foreign policy can be described as multilateral, realist and (very) cautious. Consensus was sought with foreign partners; conflict had to be avoided.

The war in Afghanistan (launched by Bush Jr. in 2001) drew to a close at the end of 2014. The war in Iraq (started by Bush Jr. in 2003) was ended in 2011. In his 2009 Cairo speech, Obama said that the war in Afghanistan was necessary in the fight against terrorism. He also said that he disapproved of the war in Iraq (though he did not regret the elimination of Saddam Hussein).

Though the Guantanamo base was not (as promised by Obama) closed, the use of torture there was stopped. Al-Qaeda was undermined by the assassination of its leader Osama Bin Laden in 2011 by US Navy SEALs.

After his re-election in 2012, Obama’s foreign policy impressed perhaps less than during his first term in office; Obama was accused of being overly cautious (mostly by the Right). He had serious problems with knowing how to cope with Islamic State terrorist groups. In a speech in December 2016 at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida, Obama all but conceded that he was unable to get America out of the foreign wars, large and small, that grew out of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Obama said: “We know that in some form this violent extremism will be with us for years to come. (…) In too many parts of the world, especially in the Middle East, there has been a breakdown of order that's been building for decades, and it’s unleashed forces that are going to take a generation to resolve.”

John Kerry was Secretary of State from February 2013 to January 2017. There were positive foreign policy achievements: in 2015, he supported the Paris Agreement on global climate change, brokered the nuclear deal with Iran, and restored diplomatic relations with Cuba. Also, under Obama, the USA decided to meddle less in Latin America. "The days in which our agenda in this hemisphere so often presumed that the United States could meddle with impunity, those days are past," stated Obama in 2015 during a visit to Panama.

Regarding the GWOT (launched by Bush after 9/11), Obama stated in 2013 that: "We must define our effort not as a boundless 'Global War on Terror,' but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America." Nevertheless, U.S. military forces were at war for all eight years of Obama’s tenure: he launched airstrikes or military raids in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan.

Accusations from the political Right included being ineffectual in the Syrian civil war (cf. the cartoon), and too conciliatory with Iran over its nuclear arms capacity. Many liberals, however, saw no real difference with the foreign policy of previous Administrations: the intensive use of drones and extensive NSA surveillance were, for them, proof of the usual imperialist stance of the USA…

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