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Tuesday, November 06, 2012 

4 more years of much the same.

It seems all but redundant at this point to say almost anything about the US presidential race.  Someone, somewhere, will have had the exact same thought and either blogged or tweeted it or posted it on Facebook.  In all likelihood, everything that could have been said was said months ago, and the only thing that's even slightly enlivened the contest was Obama's hopeless showing in the first debate.  Unless the polls and the vast majority of psephologists are catastrophically wrong, Obama will have another four years in the White House, and much of the rest of the world will once again sigh with relief.

Looking back on four years ago, I wrote that Obama's presidency would be "transformational". Hell, I even found myself in tears at the sight of Jesse Jackson weeping with joy, witnessing something he thought would never happen in his lifetime. The relief at the end of 8 miserable, literally torturous years under Bush was palpable. That it wasn't just any Democrat who won, but one with a seeming vision for his country and indeed the world, one who seemed to understand a new generation was emerging fundamentally disconnected from the cultural and historical battles of the past, was more than enough to overlook any doubts about how he would govern in reality.

Just as Michael Moore described Bill Clinton as the greatest ever Republican president, so then must Obama be judged, so skewed to the right has American politics become. By his own measure, he's failed on a number of crucial policies: Guantanamo Bay remains open; his healthcare policy is  the sheerest of safety nets; the economy, although positively booming compared to our own, is growing slowly, while unemployment remains stubbornly high; and his "surge" in Afghanistan has failed to either defeat the Taliban or bring them to the negotiation table.  He has also exercised powers that Bush acquired but didn't use: the US president can now assassinate American citizens without any due process, and be cheered by so-called liberals for doing so.  There may not be many who'll miss Anwar al-Awlaki, yet what possible crime did his son commit other than being born into the wrong family that justified his subsequent death?

While Obama can boast about killing his near namesake, one of the campaign promises he did deliver on, his foreign policy has been disappointingly shallow.  His vaunted speech in Cairo changed little, even if he did eventually drop support for Hosni Mubarak, albeit when it was already clear the Egyptian dictator could not remain in power.  The Arab spring has changed little: the US has continued to support friendly authoritarians until the very last moment.  On Israel/Palestine, American weakness has never been so apparent: rather than challenge Israeli behaviour on the continued building of settlements in the West Bank, Benjamin Netanyahu was twice allowed to lecture Obama in the White House, knowing the Israeli lobby is so powerful that the president would have to sit and take it.  The only positive to be taken is that American intransigence combined with opposition from the the Israeli military and security apparatus has prevented an attack on Iran's nuclear programme.  Whether the stand-off will continue once the election is out of the way, with Netanyahu's supposed "red line" fast approaching, is anyone's guess.

At the same time, Obama has massively expanded the drone assassination programme.  In recent weeks there have reports of drones flying in Mali; other countries where attacks have taken place include Somalia and Yemen as well as Pakistan, which has long bore the brunt of attacks.  Even taking at face value the insistence that such attacks have emasculated al-Qaida central's leadership, the number of civilians killed in the process is horrifying.  As the US refuses to do body counts, we'll never know exactly how many have become collateral damage, but the estimates by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism are terrible enough.  Just as the Bush administration considered itself above international law, so has Obama's.

It really doesn't need to be said that Obama is a massively better option than Romney, both for America and the world, such has been the ineptitude of the Republican campaign up until all but the last moment.  Romney was the best of a very bad lot, and he's a man who's spent his political career shapeshifting according to the situation: he was a moderate governor of Massachusetts, to the point where he introduced something very similar to Obamacare, a hard right-winger during the Republican primaries, and since the debates he's been the pragmatic businessman who can get the economy moving again.  A more credible, charismatic Republican candidate could well have strolled to victory; should Obama win, he will do so having smashed the rule that you can't get re-elected with unemployment of around 8%.

Such is the ridiculous nature of the American electoral cycle, Obama will have two years maximum before he becomes a lame duck.  Freed from the need to get himself re-elected, in theory he has the opportunity to be the president he promised to be: a fresh figure unencumbered by the failures and ideological rigidity of the past.  More likely is he'll just deliver more of the same, doing much that Bush did, except with less accountability.  Reduced to choosing the lesser of two evils, as we also are, even I at times feel like this now famous little girl.

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