When President George W Bush II shuffled off centre stage, dragging his dangling participles and poor grammar behind him, he was a pathetic, crumpled figure. Even his customary Texas bravado was muted, and the contrived spring in his step was tired.
Historically the US’s worst president, he departed the Oval office in a trail of destruction. His legacy is indeed painful: the sinister but still unresolved conspiracy of 9/11, one of the greatest wars in modern times against an abstract noun called “terror” and the marginalisation of international law.
Then there was the matter of global financial meltdown due to his questionable financial policies. This led to market greed and speculation on a scale never witnessed before in human history. His administration’s massive tax breaks for the wealthy, which did not see a trickle down of wealth as he naively expected, created the US’s worst debt deficit in living memory.
But not only that; for under the watchful eye of his vice-president and string-puller Dick Cheney – a corporate vulture – he’d plundered Iraq, refused to sign the Kyoto protocol, devastated Afghanistan, destabilised Pakistan, ignored the Palestinians, hounded Iran, peddled Islamophobia and presented the discredited idea of a “clash of civilisations” as a fait accompli.
So it was no wonder that when Barack Hussein Obama was sworn in as a Democratic president in 2008 after nearly a decade of neo-con ignorance, imperious arrogance and darkness, there was hope in the air.
Here was a man who had a command of the English language and who appeared to understand the urgent issues at play. The US, via the Bush regime, had become one of the world’s most hated nations, particularly in the developing world and the Middle East.
The worst affected by global warming, the militarisation of international relations, neo-liberal economics and the plundering of natural resources by the major powers, it has always been their awareness that since 1967 US foreign policy has been dominated by Israeli interests.
Obama had two challenges facing him: firstly, the domestic situation and the economy, which was on the brink of a melt-down, and secondly, US foreign policy with regards to the “war on terror”, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Israel.
To be sure, Obama had an inbox from hell. But he did start out bravely, his address in Cairo giving the Muslim world hope. His undertakings to shut down Guantanamo Bay and to gradually withdraw from Afghanistan and Iraq (where millions of civilians have died) were also widely welcomed.
Unfortunately, the adage that the road to hell is paved with good intentions applies to Obama. He not only had to immediately make concessions to Zionists and conservatives in appointing his administration, but he had to deal with a legislature that was Republican, and destructively antagonistic towards him.
This is not to excuse Obama, but to portray more the reality of his office, compromised from the start, and hog-tied by reactionary Republicans – and a right-wing Tea Party constituency that tried to make the case that he was a closet Muslim.
However, his daunting presidential challenges aside, the reality on the ground for most of the communities affected by US policy, the direct delivery of Obama’s pre-office promises have been inadequate. These were people who needed relief and they are bitterly disappointed.
Guantanamo – that great moral wart – still remains open, drones still terrorise Pakistan, Israel still builds settlements with impunity, Israel still receives more US aid than Africa and Asia combined, the US still has to acknowledge the ICC, the US still has to lift the anachronistic Cuban embargo, carbon reduction is minimal and covert militarisation, particularly in Africa, continues.
This is what clouds President Obama’s scheduled visit to South Africa, certainly not helped by the DA-dominated Cape Town City Council slavishly awarding the US president – the only person to have been awarded a Nobel Peace prize for doing nothing – the freedom of the city.
These are just some of the issues that have galvanised a very broad spectrum of local civic society organisations from COSATU to the SACP to oppose Obama’s visit, the Muslim Lawyer’s Association going so far as to seek a criminal investigation against him based on the Stanford Report, the Rome Statutes and the Geneva convention.
For the South African government, Obama’s visit is a matter of development, economics and continental security. According to President Zuma, who addressed the media, the US is a major investor with 600 companies operating in the country. Zuma also added that 90% of SA products entered the US market duty-free.
According to economic commentators Obama’s second African visit – also to Senegal and Tanzania – is a belated effort to engage the continent against the background of Chinese dominance. Africa is a rising giant, and as one of the world’s most powerful industrial economies in spite of debt and recession, the US can’t afford to miss the boat.