Obama standing tall and respected

Today's CaribbeanBarack Obama did not sound or look like a president who was giving his last State Of The Union speech to the United States Congress. On January 12, his demeanour, style and presentation was that of a man who still retained a vision for his country’s future and who was determined to influence its shape.

Significantly, the Congress, including his worst Republican detractors, listened with respect, however grudgingly. The Obama before them was not the rookie usurper so many in the establishment politics of Washington had resented when he was elected, despite them, on a wave of popular support.

This was a president with seven years of experience, knowledge and achievement that could not be denied, even though it might choke some Congressmen to admit it.

Obama commanded the hall as the elder statesman he has become with the greying hair and the additional lines in his face as marks of it. Naturally, much of what he had to say was centred on domestic politics, particularly as the Congress, the media and the country are now gearing up for the final year of the campaign
to elect his successor as president of the United States.

In a sense, the unseen elephant in the room was Donald Trump, an aspirant for the Republican nomination for the presidency. Trump appeals to the lowest common denominator in United States society; he plays on fears and exaggerates their source; nothing is sacred with him –– not race, not religion, not even good manners. Without doubt, he engenders fear among decent, well-thinking and progressive Americans. He does the same across the globe.

A United States in Donald Trump’s hands is a terrifying prospect, particularly when he identifies the North Korean dictator Kim
Jong-Un as a leader he admires, saying: “You’ve got to give him credit. He goes in, he takes over, he’s the boss. It’s incredible. He wiped out the Uncle, he wiped out this one, that one.”

The admiration for such unmitigated autocracy is deeply worrying in an aspiring leader who has described Mexicans as “rapists”, wants to stop Muslims from entering the United States, describes Indian and Pakistani immigrants as the cause of poor wages, and persistently calls for “victories” and seems anxious to involve the country in military confrontations abroad regardless of the consequences.

Obama countered this dangerous rhetoric by saying the United States could not “try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis”. As he correctly stated, “that’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately weakens us. That’s the lesson of Vietnam, of Iraq –– and we should have learned by now”.

Of course, the worst thing about Mr Trump is that he emboldens radical groups in the United States whose prejudices, bigotry and predilection for violence would render the country unsafe for minority religious or racial groups, even if they are natural-born Americans. The unleashing of such groups would tear the United States apart. Its weakening would not be from outside, but from within.

A strong voice is needed to be raised against Mr Trump’s disregard for facts and decency, and his attempt to legitimize the worst elements in American society.  President Obama was right, therefore, to say categorically: “When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized or a kid is called names; that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong.”

The closest President Obama came to discussing anything related to the Caribbean were his two references to Cuba –– both passing. But they were important enough for him to include them in his speech, thus signalling that they remain key considerations for the United States Congress now and in the future.

The first was closing down Guantanamo Bay which the United States has held in Cuba for decades and used as a prison for suspected terrorists. Obama had pledged to close Guantanamo in his campaign for the presidency. The fact that it still operates is entirely due to the hostility of the United States Congress –– in part, responding to the militant anti-Castro, Cuban-American lobby.

The second reference was to ending the long-standing trade embargo which has little popular support in the United States except, again, for those who respond to the anti-Castro lobby.

The anti-Cuba sentiment that continues in the United States Congress is largely sterile and completely irrelevant. Cuba is no threat to the United States militarily, economically or as a base for narcotics trafficking or terrorism. It would be in the United States’ interest, particularly for its business sector, to end the embargo and rid itself of the irritant and the needless cost of still occupying Cuban territory.

The respect for human rights and the reform of the political system in Cuba would be best achieved by full and normal engagement.

President Obama raised one other issue of vital importance to the Caribbean –– climate change. While he did not raise it because of the clear and present danger it poses to the region, it is crucial that he voiced it to the United States people as a whole in the following stark terms: “Even if — even if the planet wasn’t at stake, even if 2014 wasn’t the warmest year on record until 2015 turned out even hotter — why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future?”

In other words, he called on the naysayers to pull their heads out of the sand and look constructively at the opportunities to combat the dangers of climate change. There remain issues to be resolved between the United States and the Caribbean, financial services being high on the list. But the world, including the Caribbean, has been safer with the Obama presidency.

Of course, all those in the United States who resent Obama’s election to the White House would have liked to crow over his poor performance. He devastated them by achieving the opposite.

As he said, “anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction”. The facts support his assertion. Further, for those who say that the United States is a weakened nation, the evidence stands behind his statement that “the United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth, period. Period”.

He also gave the people of the United States an agenda for their future well-being and prosperity they would be unwise to ignore.

(Sir Ronald Sanders is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the United States and the Organization of American States. He is also a senior fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London, and Massey College, University of Toronto.
Responses and previous commentaries: www.sirronaldsanders.com)

4 Responses to Obama standing tall and respected

  1. Joel C. Payne
    Joel C. Payne January 16, 2016 at 10:46 am

    He needs to read the newspaper commentaries for the tru picture. American TV is soo far removed from reality. With a ton of channels on TV I doubt a scant few even watched him speak. It isn’t like in Barbados where you have one station and that’s what you have to watch.

  2. Eddie Forde January 16, 2016 at 5:06 pm

    Barak Obama is a decent man and a very good president. The right wing media( Fox News especially) HATE him with a vengence. The majority of cotributors hate the idea of a black man being Commander in Chief( the so-called most powerful man in the world). They would never gie him credit for anything. They never have anythin positve to say about him. They blame him for the economy, unemployment, Isis and most thing that is happening in the world right now. They would rather have a man like Donald Trump who would not hesitate to start a new World war to boost his ego.He thinks that he could buy his way to the presidency. I think that the American people are more sensible than that. I personally think that Hilary Clinto will be the next president.

  3. Chris Wright January 17, 2016 at 12:07 am

    President Barack Obama is too much a gentleman for the neo-cons who think they can take over the world, what was that about the New world Order?
    After invading Iraq and finding no WMDs one would think they would have learned a lesson.
    After so many men and women lost lives and limbs. senselessly, one would think they would have learned a lesson. The hatred spewed by countries that hate America are a result of the “braggadocio” comments regarding other countries and the superiority expressed.
    As he stresses the gains the USA has made in many fields he is still aware of the fact that in making the achievements, there are others from distant lands who came to America and made their contributions because the USA is a country of many nationalities.
    Were he not respected and admired by the silent majority, there is no way he could have been elected for a second term. Be that as it may, as the other “empty vessels” go around making all that noise, long after he is our out of office, the progress and contributions Pres Obama made in this country will be manifested.
    Thank you Sir Ronald, for a beautiful commentary.

  4. jrsmith January 17, 2016 at 10:36 am

    The same level of markings I would give Obama , I would give to our Barbados present government, 3 out 10 .. Not blaming him solely for the American debt , 23 trillion and rising, because the USA was always the worlds biggest debtor, the failing economy, the harsh Obama care programme , the gay marriage president. ..this is what all Christians supposed to be against…with they deceitful moral standards.. visit all the large cities in the US , speak to the black people , about they president, we have seen documentaries, from the US which shows , the black in the US , is worst off than they were 50 years ago.. and you will see ,they still back singing we shall over come…

    Obama showed no interest what so ever, in the Caribbean region, visiting Jamaica ,because he was on route to panama, just killing time , to fire a salvo much later ,to the Jamaican people on the fraudulent use of satellite signals beaming from the US…again , would blame him , in general the US political system and its politicians , have no idea whats foreign policy, bearing in mind , the US ,is just the world largest ex colony.

    @ , Sir, Sanders, I hope the region , doesn’t take time from you, when it comes to US politics and ,Donald Trump, at the end of the day , whether The Donald , be the president or not, some time or another we would cross his path, with our tin can in hand begging for hand outs…our region have no say in anything , when it comes to the US.. or any where else, we cant even govern ourselves…

    The safety of our region , and our Barbados ,depends on how honourable and non corrupt our regional politicians are… our safety play more on the British than anyone else, we as Barbados and the region cannot afford to be entwined with other countries , so much bigger , which are poverty stricken, corrupt, violent with very high murder rates.. we stay away from these countries..

    The climate change issue, how could the region , be in danger , when test showed , the polluted foot print in our region ,is less than 1%, , which means ,we are the worlds cleanest region..
    our region is always an excuse for the US,.as to the financial services, how much could an island as little Barbados absorb as to be financially corrupt, yet still most American companies in the UK, is turning over billions of £/$ , paying pence to the british Government in taxes and the US, shows no concern to this corruption..

    Sir, Ronald, you are forgetting , us bajans are educated people , the world is at our finger tips.. and in our sights on television…

    The Americans would elect who they want as president, whether we like it or not , don’t pretend to think we have a say , no.. what we want is to put our Barbados first and right…



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