President Barack Obama’s farewell speech last night in Chicago took a look at some of his positive achievements in the past eight years – and there have admittedly been quite a few. In his own words, his Presidency helped:
…reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history — if I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, take out the mastermind of 9/11 — if I had told you that we would win marriage equality, and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens…we’ve halved our dependence on foreign oil; we’ve doubled our renewable energy …
Those are impressive achievements particularly when one remembers that there were many influential players, not least the Israel lobby, who were eagerly pushing for war against Iran. Who can forget the former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who said “the day the United States finishes with Iraq, it should start with Iran” or Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s comical antics at the UN where he shrieked about the imminent danger of a nuclear capable Iran? Little wonder that Netanyahu has so warmly welcomed the election of Donald Trump.
Obama praised the spirit of the Enlightenment, the spirit that insists that “science and reason matter”, the spirit that:
… made us an economic powerhouse — the spirit that took flight at Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral; the spirit that cures disease and put a computer in every pocket.
He urged people to value their democracy and its values and be vigilant in protecting them:
I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved and they get engaged, and they come together to demand it…we are all created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It’s the insistence that these rights, while self-evident, have never been self-executing…If something needs fixing, then lace up your shoes and do some organizing. If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself.
He added that these Enlightenment values deserve to be spread around the world and that it was necessary to make the world a better and more safer place:
That’s why I reject discrimination against Muslim Americans…That’s why we cannot withdraw from big global fights — to expand democracy, and human rights, and women’s rights, and LGBT rights. No matter how imperfect our efforts, no matter how expedient ignoring such values may seem, that’s part of defending America. For the fight against extremism and intolerance and sectarianism and chauvinism are of a piece with the fight against authoritarianism and nationalist aggression. If the scope of freedom and respect for the rule of law shrinks around the world, the likelihood of war within and between nations increases, and our own freedoms will eventually be threatened.
And he mentioned some of the dangers that continue to face America:
…violent fanatics who claim to speak for Islam; more recently by autocrats in foreign capitals who see free markets and open democracies and civil society itself as a threat to their power. The peril each poses to our democracy is more far-reaching than a car bomb or a missile. It represents the fear of change; the fear of people who look or speak or pray differently; a contempt for the rule of law that holds leaders accountable; an intolerance of dissent and free thought; a belief that the sword or the gun or the bomb or the propaganda machine is the ultimate arbiter of what’s true and what’s right.
Obama will have disappointed many Muslims around the world with his failure to make progress on the key issue of securing a just settlement for the Palestinians, yet it is fair to say – and perhaps particularly so given the impending handover of power to Donald Trump – that the world will miss him.