Obama’s first steps

Published on The Monde Diplo, by Serge Halimi, July 2009.

To deal with the legacy he inherited from his predecessors, Barack Obama has rejected several of their ideas. True, the new US president has been in no hurry to withdraw US forces from Iraq and he has committed more troops to the murderous, hopeless deadlock in Afghanistan. On the home front, his policy vis-à-vis the automobile industry, the banks and the pay-packets of top executives shows no sign of breaking with the diehard neo-liberalism which allows the public to share company losses but not their profits. 

Even so, Obama is no doubt the most progressive the US system can produce in the current climate – so much so that decisions taken by the powers that be in Washington are sometimes more acceptable than those coming from Paris, Brussels, Moscow, Beijing – or Tehran. If the White House holds its ground and powerful lobbies in Congress are kept under tight control, the United States may shortly have legislation in place to protect trade union rights and deal with the cost of health care for the 46 million Americans who have no insurance cover. That would be no mean achievement.

It can be argued that Obama is, after all, a Democrat. But that is to ignore 40 years of history. A Republican president, Richard Nixon, took office in 1969, and both the Democratic presidents who succeeded him waged most of their battles against the progressive ideas of their own party …

… Any US president, whether he likes it or not, has an empire to run and is therefore subject to the tight constraints of US strategic interests. Nevertheless, Obama’s first steps suggest that he has not yet altogether forgotten his progressive past in the streets of Chicago. (full text).

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