‘The Legacy of Barack Obama’: A Talk by Ambassador Karamatullah Ghori

Obama was a man of consensus … Trump is Obama’s antithesis and is like a bull in a China shop – watch video

His blackness and Muhammad Ali antics and punchy talk endeared him to poor non-white folks everywhere. Many whites loved him equally. But the black president who set out to do so much achieved alarmingly little. His administration conducted more drone attacks than his predecessor George Bush and he deported more immigrants than any other president. He was spineless on Syria and failed to close down Guantánamo Bay. A very ugly aspect of Obama’s legacy is that his failing administration ultimately came to be replaced by Trump’s extremists who are determined to erase all signs of his blackness from the White House. But at least he did not make personal attacks on journalists. For historian Simon Schama, Trump’s America points to Kennedy’s nation of migrants being afflicted by a “split personality”. Yet Schama also stresses “the moral stench of xenophobia is nothing new in US history.” Novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of The Refugees and the Pulitzer Prize winning book The Sympathizer, says “the refugee embodies fear, failure and flight”. Despite opposing Trump, he argues with some vehemence “it is un-American to be a refugee”.

Margaret Thatcher’s biographer Charles Moore, a leading proponent of Brexit and an influential right-wing pundit, called Trump a “cruel jester” not long ago. More recently he wrote: “Trump’s style makes other politicians feel that he is almost as dangerous a friend as an enemy”. Moore said May was “embarrassed in Ankara” while meeting Erdoğan as she knew nothing of the Muslim ban affecting dual British nationals but weirdly claimed a “special relationship” with America. But now John Bercow, the speaker of the House of Commons, has embarrassed her by stating that Trump is “unfit” to address MPs.

For reasons connected to opposing racism and sexism, Bercow clarified that he intends to refuse to invite Trump to Westminster Hall. This would leave the tycoon out of a select club to which diverse personalities such as Mandela, Obama and China’s president Xi belong. Bercow’s position is unsurprising. Right before his announcement to veto Trump, Andrew Rawnsley accused May of “pimping out the Queen for Donald Trump.” Frustrated with the British government he bemoaned: “This, apparently, is what they meant by getting our sovereignty back.”

Rawnsley explains, without Europe the UK is “looking very lonely in the world.” Bercow’s counterpart in the House of Lords, Lord Fowler, said he would keep an “open mind” about inviting the vulgar and undignified American president and Bercow has apologised for failing to consult Fowler. Given that he is in bed with president Putin and owes the Kremlin his entry into the White House, Trump’s aggression towards Iran appears to be rather futile. Janet Daley recently emphasised that Britain cannot “afford to be seen on Trump’s side”. Doing so is “defending the indefensible”. Indeed, Marine Le Pen, is doubling up Trump’s rhetoric in the French presidential election to position her “France first” candidacy which will campaign for “Frexit” or France’s exit from the EU.

President Obama – on whose legacy ambassador Karamatullah Khan Ghori spoke at The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) on 4 February 2017 – broke with the practice of not criticising incoming presidents soon after leaving office. News reports from Ghori’s stimulating talk are available below.

‘Obama was a man of consensus’, by Anil Datta published in The News International on 5 February 2017

Barack Obama was a man of consensus and, unlike the present White House incumbent, he did not believe in confrontation for the sake of confrontation but believed in searching harmony among all groups while finding solutions to issues through consensus. These views were voiced by former ambassador Karamatullah Khan Ghori, who served in a whole lot of countries, while addressing members of the PIIA, the media and the intellectual elite of town on Saturday evening.

He drew rather a positive balance sheet of the Obama tenure and spoke in positive terms of the former US president’s legacy. To begin with, he talked of Obama’s handling of the economy and said that what he inherited from George Bush, Jr., was a fractured economy with a budgetary deficit of two trillion dollars, which was 50 percent of the US economy, which Obama cut to just 12.5 percent by the end of his second tenure. “It became incumbent on Obama to realise Martin Luther King’s dream” Ghori argued and he went on to remark:

Barack Obama was a phenomenon and will be remembered for many things, including being the first US president of non-Caucasian descent, something his detractors tried to capitalise on.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, was in the forefront of those capitalising on his second name Hussein, which was not an Anglo-Saxon name, to convince the electorate that he was not fit to lead the US. Tracing Obama’s rise to the top, he said Obama started life as a social reformer in 1982. Then, he said, he started lecturing at the University of Chicago Law School. The most striking thing about him was his consensus politics, he said. “He talked of the world as it was and not as he would have liked it to be,” said Ghori. He said that Obama was seen as the harbinger of change, especially by the youth.

He dubbed Donald Trump as Obama’s antithesis and a “bull in a China shop”.

In reply to a question, he said that perhaps his greatest achievement was Obamacare. Twenty million Americans, he said, were brought within the net of free healthcare.  “Twenty-million is no small number,” he said. This was all the more admirable, he said, given the fact that the US was the cradle of diehard capitalism and Obamacare went against the corporate interests of insurance companies which were reaping a bonanza from the healthcare premiums of the citizens. “This was the nearest the US ever came to the welfare state, something that Trump is intent on dismantling.”

However, dwelling on success eluding him, he said that Obama tried and promised to shut the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison camp but could not succeed. He also could not succeed in stopping the construction of 55,000 new housing units by Israel in the occupied territories. This, he said, was on account of the excruciating pressure from the Republican House. At a lecture at the Cairo University, Ghori said, Obama promised to mitigate the gap between the Islamic and the non-Islamic worlds, but the gap was still there.

He said his detractors were blaming him for slipping the US manufacturing jobs overseas, but Obama was not to blame; it was the US multinational corporations that were intent on making a mark where they had never existed and that explained the success of the General Motors in China.He also said there were 500 drone raids on Pakistan during his tenure. However, he said, Obama wanted to be a peace builder. He said things in the near future would be getting uglier as a highly anti-Islam person was Trump’s closest adviser in the White House.

The talk was followed by an animated question-answer session.

The proceedings had to be conducted in virtual darkness as, according to the organizers, electricity had gone out at 11am and the K-Electric had promised that power would be restored “within two hours” but it had not been restored till 5:30 pm.

Trump’s victory termed legacy of Obama’s conciliation policy, by Hassan Sheerazi published in Dawn on 5 February 2017

The conciliation policy of former US president Barack H. Obama, his failures to turn his vision for change into reality, the revival of industries that benefited his opponents, primarily those who were responsible for a budget deficit, more than his supporters, his inability to take a stand and pick a fight are some of the factors that contributed to the victory of Donald Trump in the US elections, said ambassador Karamatullah Khan Ghori on Saturday evening.

The ambassador, who began his career from the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs and later served as ambassador in Kuwait, Iraq, Turkey and other Middle East countries, was delivering a talk at the institute on The Legacy of Barack Obama Mr Ghori said Obama would be remembered in history as a phenomenon. But “after Trump, I am mentally prepared for any accident,” said Mr Ghori, “as it’s no less an accident that he was [preceded] by a man of colour.” The first black president who came for change was followed by Trump, he added. According to him, Obama came to turn Martin Luther`s slogan “I have a dream” into a reality. He started his career as a reformer who later turned into a politician.

The former president shot to prominence in 2004. His keynote speech in 2004 set the tone of what was to come under him as US president. In that historic well-articulated speech, Obama said:

There’s not a liberal America, not a conservative America, but the United States of America.

He believed in consensus building since the beginning of his career. He was never the one to pick a fight. But that’s his weak area too in multiple ways, noted the ambassador. His slogan was “Yes, we can.” But here emerged the gap between Obama’s thought and that of his followers and those who were impressed by his articulation and rhetoric and believed that he was harbinger of change. Coming back to the topic, Mr Ghori said:

Trump is Obama’s legacy, because the latter couldn’t fulfil the aspiration of his followers.

He said the unfolding of events during his eight-year rule showed that in the policy of conciliation with his opponents his core supporters were deeply disappointed. But then the fractured economy was the first and foremost issue that Obama had to deal with. When his predecessor came to power, he inherited an economy with one trillion dollars in surplus. But the expensive wars resulted in the budget deficit of two trillion dollars at the time when Obama came to power. Obama successfully revived the US economy by the end of his first term.

And by the end of his second term, he had managed to reduce the budgetary deficit to 12.5 per cent. Until 2010, he said, the Democrats commanded absolute supremacy in both houses. But things started changing after the 2010 mid-term elections in the US when the Republicans got an overwhelming majority in both the houses. Mr Ghori said Obama had visible handicaps in the arena of politics because of his complexion and name.

Being a person with Hussein as his middie name, he was looked at with scepticism by the likes of Trump, many Christians and conservatives. He failed to balance US foreign policy that he had promised. On the first day, he announced that Guantanamo Bay would be closed but by the end of his term, the infamous detention centre was still there, he added. His speech at Cairo University at the very outset of his tenure in which he promised to bridge a widening gap between Muslims and non-Muslims lent strength to the scepticism against his respect for Muslims like the followers of any other religion. His opponents did make use of such handicaps to their advantage.

According to the ambassador, the disagreement between Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on the settlements issue did surface in the media but with the Republicans having a majority in Congress, he couldn’t stop Israel from building more homes.

The ambassador reiterated that Obama never believed in picking a fight, as he was a reformer, a bridge builder. But with such an approach, he ended up in a situation where his opponents became strong and his hardcore followers disappointed. Denying 77 per cent requests filed by ordinary citizens for access to information and the policy of conciliation with the Republicans, who never missed a chance to fail him, moved many of his supporters away.

Yet Obama efficiently navigated through the troubled waters as he became one of the few presidents of the US who came clean when they left the Oval Office after the eight-year rule. This was no mean achievement that he didn’t have a single scandal despite all the handicaps he had, and a Congress dominated by Republicans. Despite the transparency that he maintained in the state affairs, the goal of even-handedness in foreign policy could not be achieved, said Mr Ghori.

Having learnt lessons from the fallout of US intervention in Libya and Iraq that in fact benefited the US nemesis, Iran, the most, Obama’s doctrine was that the US should enter wars only where it could make a visible difference, he said.

He agreed with an audience member that Democrats committed a blunder by fielding Hilary Clinton against Trump, as Hillary was seen as an establishment figure with lots of skeletons in the cupboard. This was portrayed as a double jeopardy for conservatives.

Obama should have taken a stand and picked a fight, not the one picked by the loose cannons like Trump. All this resulted in the election of a face like Trump who has closed down Obamacare, the affordable medical care policy in the US, badly affecting 20 million Americans. Trump is himself shortening his tenure by taking such measures. His phone conversation with the Australian prime minister is an example of Trump’s unexpected moves, which can turn friends into foes.

All major malls in the US are filled with goods made in China. If the Trump administration kept building barriers and walls in the hope to create a job market for the Americans by keeping immigrants out of the country, it would eventually hit the corporate sector, which needs affordable efficient labour to succeed in the global market. The street protests in the US are just a reflection of a backlash that the Trump administration would face due to his policies, Mr Ghori noted.

Comment

In Malta, the German chancellery, i.e. Angela Merkel, rejected May’s assurances about Trump and the proposition that the UK could build bridges with him on behalf of Europe. The EU is unimpressed with Trump’s choice of Ted Malloch – who apparently “does not suffer the vice of reticence” – as ambassador to Brussels. Tensions are also reportedly mounting between Steve Bannon and first son-in-law Jared Kushner because of the latter’s staunch views on respecting the legal rights of the LGBTI community. Meanwhile, China has been wooing Ivanka Trump, her father’s most reliable asset (and perhaps even his lethal weapon), in order to mend fences with the White House.

The sensation surrounding “The Donald’s respect” for Russia’s “killer” president Vladimir Putin is so euphoric that during his brief time in office Trump has even attacked America and defended the Kremlin by saying “you think our country’s so innocent”. He has also berated his own country’s free and independent judiciary for declaring his outrageous Muslim ban unconstitutional and irrational. David Gans of the Constitutional Accountability Center thinks that America is on the verge of “defining constitutional moment”. According to him, the litigation arising out of the ban “is becoming a huge potential landmark case that will define the limits of the power of the president.”

Posted by Editor.

As explained in an earlier post, in November 2017, PIIA will be hosting some special events in relation to our Seventieth Anniversary. Coverage of our recent events can be found via the links below:

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Filed under Brexit, Discussion, Drones, Europe, Human Rights, Iran, Islamophobia, PIIA, Politics, Russia, Syria, The Middle East, UK, United States

4 responses to “‘The Legacy of Barack Obama’: A Talk by Ambassador Karamatullah Ghori

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