Terry Glavin: The American epoch is over.
It ended on Obama's watch
“It is going to be messy, costly and dangerous, and a large share of the
blame rests with the man now packing up at the White House.” - Edward Lucas
“Yes, we can,” they chanted in unison. To hear Barack Obama speak, or just to catch a glimpse of him, roughly 200,000 people had turned out that day, July 24, 2008, filling the broad, tree-lined avenue of Strasse des 17 Juni in Berlin's glorious Tiergarten Park. It was an audience three times the size of any crowd Obama had drawn back in the United States. The election was still months away.
It was like a rock concert. As Obama seemed to float towards the podium on a sky-blue walkway beneath the red granite and sandstone Victory Column, the Siegessäule, with the Brandenburg Gate looming in the far distance, the chanting in German-accented English grew louder. Yes, we can. Yes, we can.
Obama had arrived in Germany in his campaign's Boeing 757, filled with handlers and journalists. That same week, when Republican candidate John McCain arrived at an airport in New Hampshire, a single reporter was there to greet him in the arrivals lobby. Seven bloody years had passed since the Al Qaida atrocities of Sept. 11, 2001. Americans desperately wanted to be loved by the world, and everyone in the world seemed to love Obama.
When Obama won the presidency that November it was close to a landslide. Democrats took control of both houses of Congress. Obama was going to change the world. It was all about “hope and change.”
Among the many millions of Obama's still-entranced votaries, disciples and admirers, all of whom are now quite sensibly aghast at the fresh hell looming in the imminent presidency of Donald Trump, you will not hear it said out loud. But the facts of it are unassailable. What was wrought by Obama's 2008 election was the beginning of the end of American power and prestige in the world. It was a good, long, 60-year run. It's over.
It wasn't George W. Bush's fault, no matter how desperately so many people have made themselves need to believe that to be so, and no matter how the facts of the Bush administration's many misadventures in Iraq are twisted and bent to make it appear to be so. It isn't Donald Trump's fault, either. Trump is just the loudest and ugliest piece of human detritus to tumble from the American wreckage.
Strictly speaking, it's not simply Obama's fault, either. But wreckage is not a word that puts too fine a point on what has become of the American republic, and of America's standing and stature in the streets of Kyiv, in the rubble of Aleppo, in the Kremlin, in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, and in not a few NATO capitals, besides.
Unlike his loathed and uncouth Texan predecessor, Obama was an eloquent, reed-thin, 47-year-old African-American, the son of a Kenyan immigrant father who began life as a goatherder, and a mother whose forebears were European settlers in Kansas. He was a Harvard law graduate. He'd spent some of his childhood years in Indonesia. His middle name was Hussein. He was really cool.
In his Sept. 23, 2009, inaugural speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Obama pledged he would not be like Bush, who acted unilaterally and “without regard for the interests of others.” Obama's speech was interrupted by applause, 12 times. Europe was so caught up in the excitement that the Nobel Committee in Oslo awarded Obama the Peace Prize two weeks later. Obama had created a “new climate” in the world, the Nobel committee explained, and he spoke so fondly of multilateral diplomacy, and nuclear disarmament, and dialogue, and was keen to “reach out” to something called “the Muslim world,” too.
In June, 2009, Obama had travelled to Cairo to do just that. “I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world,” Obama declared, “one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam … share common principles — principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.” A “new beginning,” Obama promised.
Within weeks of his Cairo speech, Obama had already broken his promises to the courageous young democrats of the “Muslim world,” in Iran. They'd risen up in peaceful protest against the violence and treachery of the rigged system that resulted in the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, deemed by Supreme leader Ali Khamenei to have won legitimately owing to some sort of “divine” assessment.
But by then, Obama was already busy with diplomatic back channel favour-currying with the Iranian ayatollahs, and the Iranian uprising collapsed. Within two years, democratic revolts were shaking the foundations of several Arab police states, and Obama was at best indifferent. When it mattered most, in Libya, Obama only reluctantly agreed to join a NATO-led no fly zone, then walked away.
The deal Obama eventually struck with Tehran committed the ayatollahs to wait at least a few years before building a nuclear bomb, and in exchange Tehran would earn roughly $100 billion in sanctions relief. Just one of the collateral costs: Obama would ensure that NATO would not stand in the way of the campaign of mass murder the Iranian proxy Bashar al-Assad was waging against his own civilians, nearly 500,000 of whom have ended up dead, so far.
Another cost: roughly six million refugees, and mayhem sufficient to threaten the stability of the European Union. Another cost: after an almost total absence of 30 years, Russia has re-emerged as a ruthless war criminal in the Middle East — at Obama's invitation. Obama's public-relations specialists came up with a jingle about Syria becoming “Russia's Vietnam.” Instead, Russia is now the dominant global power between Istanbul and the Persian Gulf, and American credibility is shot, pretty well everywhere.
Obama's pivot to Asia, then. How'd that turn out?
Not even the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement survived. Obama formally gave up on it after Trump's electoral college win last November, but months earlier, even Hillary Clinton, the agreement's former champion, had thrown in the towel.
Beijing has more or less annexed the South China Sea, and to Japan's growing dismay, is now moving in on the East China Sea. The Philippines have absconded from the American sphere of influence into China's orbit. The Chinese regime is slowly tightening the noose around democratic Taiwan. After having only a bare-bones, drawing board nuclear program when Obama came into office, North Korea has since built up a stockpile of perhaps as many as 35 nuclear bombs.
In an assessment for the Centre for Policy Studies in London published this week, the Economist Magazine's veteran correspondent and analyst Edward Lucas writes that after 30 years of covering European security, he has never been gloomier about the future of the United States. “We need to prepare for a post-American, post-NATO European security order. Our counterparts in Asia need to start making their own arrangements too,” says Lucas.
“It is going to be messy, costly and dangerous, and a large share of the blame rests with the man now packing up at the White House.”
That's not the sort of thing a great many of Obama's American admirers and Trump's most intelligent and forceful American adversaries will be happy to acknowledge. But it's something Canadians, and just about everyone else in the world, will have to reckon with.
The American Epoch is over. It ended on Barack Obama's watch.
Terry Glavin is a Canadian author and journalist, a National Post columnist, has worked as a reporter, columnist and editor for a variety of newspapers. His assignments in recent years have taken him around the world hotspots. Petroleumworld does not necessarily share these views.
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Petroleumworld News 01/30/2017
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