After telling us how it could even be better news that Obama has won, Alex Higgins reminds us where Obama might still go wrong.
30 years of gross misrule has left an aftermath of social inequality, decaying infrastructure, debt, corruption, dysfunctional political institutions and environmental damage that would be hard for enough for any reform-minded president to deal with. In addition, Obama gets the added bonuses of artificial global warming which must be slowed under his watch, two wars which cannot be won, dangerous stand-offs with foreign powers, and global economic collapse.
With the best will in the world, that would be a challenge beyond any single US administration to address satisfactorily. And for all his virtues as a candidate and a human being, it is a stretch to argue that Obama has the best will in the world. There is a lot that could go wrong, and we may see Obama making Blair-like compromises which seem politically savvy at the time but will fail to prevent certain realities from blowing up in his, and everybody else’s, faces.
Here are just a few cases where events might destroy an Obama honeymoon, or he might make serious misjudgements:
- Obama should be a major improvement on environmental issues, but if action is not taken quickly enough and does not go far enough, it may be impossible to prevent global average temperatures rising by 2 degrees centigrade on 1990 levels. Global warming may then become an irreversible process, no longer within our capacity to prevent. Then we are in a world of trouble.
- Obama should withdraw from Iraq – but if he delays this he may find that the present lull in violence from the apocalyptic levels of 2005-7 to the merely horrendous present level may end. Shi’ite rebels currently on ceasefire and Sunni insurgents currently being paid not to fight might feel compelled to finally drive US forces out.
- Obama is committed to the war in Afghanistan. He has – to his credit – complained about a reliance on air strikes which is taking a very heavy toll on Afghan civilians (killing more than the Taliban) and would be prepared to negotiate with rebel Afghan tribes as General Petraeus recommends, but his proposal to increase US forces there and allow them to cross the border into Pakistan may be the beginning of an extremely dangerous, escalating conflict that runs out of anyone’s control.
- During the election campaign, Obama set aside his previous stated concern for Palestinian suffering in favour of indifference and support for the politics of Israeli hardliners. This stance would make it hard to resolve the Middle East conflict even partially and prevent this long-running sore exploding into a wider Israeli-Arab war.
- His Vice President, Joe Biden, is committed to expanding NATO along Russia’s border which would almost certainly mean a renewed Cold War and the increased long-term risk of a US-Russia war – the ultimate disaster. During the Russia-Georgia war in the summer, Obama’s suitably measured response gave way to Biden’s bellicose rhetoric.
- With a colossal, world-historical national debt and a disintegrating economy, Obama will struggle to provide the jobs and economic security he has pledged to working and middle-class people facing hard times that could undercut support for his administration. Economic policy could fall under sway of those like Robert Rubin who previously advised Clinton to – among other things – deregulate the banking sector.
- The election of a black, liberal president could spark an American anti-government insurgency - ultra-right paramilitarism of the kind that bombed the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people with a truck bomb placed outside its nursery school. There will certainly be attempts to kill Obama (people have already been arrested for planning these), and possibly worse.
- Obama is committed to producing bio-fuels on the bogus grounds that they are environmentally friendly, which they are not. It also means burning up corn to keep cars moving at a time when this is driving up food prices and hunger around the world.
Just some of the problems Obama could be about to face or make worse for himself. It is up to those who supported his campaign to remain active in politics, keep building their movement – an independent movement, not an Obama movement - to make sure their voices are heard in the White House.
The next few years will not be easy for anyone, but they have so much potential.