As the Bush administration was coming to a close, Barack Obama looked like an almost ideal leader for the United States: internationalist, concerned with the constitution and rule of law, apparently concerned about the environment, and so on.
Now, a year and a half after Obama was inaugurated, there are a lot of disappointments to deal with. Guantanamo Bay remains open, the United States maintains an active policy of assassinations in Pakistan, the war in Afghanistan has been a failure in relation to our original aims, and nothing significant has been done on climate change. Instead, the administration can point to its response to the economic crisis and health care as its accomplishments.
As I have said before, I think the credit crisis was a real waste of this administration. It seems like they could have devoted their energy in so much more productive ways, if the banks hadn’t terrified politicians into pulling out all the stops to save them. The unpopularity of doing so has revitalized the Republican Party and sapped public support for the Obama administration. Furthermore, very little has been done to prevent the occurrence of such crises in the future.
What should we take from all of this? Is Obama really as promising a figure as we thought, blocked in his efforts by the political system? Do we need to give the administration more time to effect its policies? Or was the kind of optimism that fueled the Obama campaign misplaced? Perhaps the world simply doesn’t permit the success of idealists.
In fairness, Obama did make an effort to stress how difficult real change would be, while he was campaigning and after he was elected. There is a huge amount of momentum bound up in the status quo, and changing the direction of things in meaningful ways is always difficult. Hopefully, there has been more happening in the background than has been immediately observable to outsiders and the years Obama has left will be filled with meaningful accomplishments.