Farewell, President Obama

Barack Obama leaves the White House with brilliant and dignified conduct

When, after eight years of rule, Barack Obama leaves the White House next Friday, he won’t only have exceeded the expectations that were placed before him, but situated his presidency among the greatest in American history. Obama has not only inspired millions of people both inside and outside of his country, but conferred a dignity upon the role that will be difficult to equal: He and his family have been perfect examples of public conduct, without any scandals, and at the same time close to their fellow citizens. Outside of agreeing with his politics, Americans have been able to feel dignified and well-represented by, in addition, the first black man to lead their nation.

Obama is leaving a very different country than the one he received in January 2009. Back then, the U.S. was at the mercy of a very tough economic crisis, and, at the same time, bogged down in two expensive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and with serious doubts about its place in the world. In each case, he made difficult but brave decisions. He didn’t bail out an automobile company that was in trouble, he bailed out the entire industry, and he didn’t just rescue a bankrupt bank, but the most important and powerful financial sector in the world. In addition to beginning to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and Iraq, he also initiated a strategic change in U.S. foreign policy in Asia and a process of thawing relations with the U.S.’s traditional enemies including Iran and Cuba.

The results are decisive. After his first two years in which the loss of employment reached levels unseen since the Great Depression, the market recovered, allowing Obama to leave office with 12 million jobs created. In addition, he passed health care reform, an effort in which all of his Democratic predecessors had failed. All of this, it bears remembering, with a hostile Congress that has obstructed, to an inconceivable extreme, his actions in the government.

Of course, there are things that have not gone so well. Despite the economic recovery, inequality has increased, leaving the middle class with a sense of vulnerability that their opponents, both left and right, exploited skillfully in the last elections. Nor has the historical background of being the first president of color managed to control racial problems, a major unanswered issue of the United States. Episodes of police violence, particularly against members of the black community, have continued to cause serious disturbances in many cities, giving the disturbing feeling that this is an unresolved problem. Related to this situation is gun control, supported by broad sectors of society, but where Obama has always met with the monolithic Republican opposition and the effective work of lobbies.

Nevertheless, in foreign policy the outgoing president has been able to bypass the Republican opposition and achieve three great successes: the normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba, although the embargo remains, which can only be raised by Congress itself; the nuclear non-proliferation treaty with Iran, despite harsh disagreements with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu; and the climate change treaty signed in Paris, which for the first time was strongly supported by the United States.

In 2008, the United States was seen in much of the world as an aggressive, unfriendly country with a staggering human rights record due to Guantánamo, Abu Graib and the torture and secret prisons program authorized by his predecessor, George W. Bush. The arrival of Obama, although he has not been able to close Guantánamo, radically changed that perception among large sectors of the world population.

The desire for freedom unleashed in Arab countries after decades of ferocious dictatorships is closely related to Obama’s new approach to the Arab world. It is true that, despite the elimination of Bin Laden, jihadism remains a threat of the first order, and that Assad’s cruelty, the impotence seen in Syria and the emergence of ISIS tarnished Obama’s farewell, but his action on these issues, which are almost impossible to solve, has been minimal.

With Obama, Europeans have continued to have an ally in the White House, which has strengthened the defense of the Old Continent against the Russian challenge, and committed it to deepening transatlantic free trade.

Obama has been a good president for the U.S. and for the rest of the world. The man who won with a “Yes we can” can say with total legitimacy: “We did it.” We’ll miss him, for sure.

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