Obama's legacy in doubt as Trump heads to White House

Trump's victory signals tide change for country not unlike the ascension of Barack Obama

Obama's legacy in doubt as Trump heads to White House

World Bulletin / News Desk

It was a surprise that very few saw coming but when Donald Trump was elected to America’s highest office last week, his victory signaled a tide change for the country not unlike the ascension of his predecessor, President Barack Obama.

Both candidates successfully seized on discontent in the American working class with a promise of change.

For Trump, the message was one of “draining the swamp” of corruption in Washington, a favorite pledge of the Republican Party – and, famously, to “Make America great again”.

What that means and how it will play out in practical terms under a Trump administration is unclear.

Obama campaigned hard for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the hopes she could better protect some of his hard-fought accomplishments under her administration.

Ultimately he was unable to convert his popularity, which hovers in the mid-50th percentile, into support for Clinton, said Stephen Wayne, a professor of American government at Georgetown University.

“He wasn’t able to translate his current approval to Hillary Clinton,” Wayne told Anadolu Agency, citing Clinton’s long history in government as an impediment to seizing on popular anger against establishment politics.

“It’s very hard for a candidate who has been in national public life since 1992 to be a change-oriented candidate,” he said. “Anybody who has been in public life since then, if there’s dissatisfaction with government, then that person is part of the problem.”

Now that the American people have voted for change, what is true is that many of Obama’s hallmark achievements now face uncertain futures.

Internationally, that means his major diplomatic successes, such as the Iran nuclear deal and Cuba opening, could be jeopardized by Trump.

The Republican president-elect has promised to tear up the Iran accord on day one of his presidency, but that could lead to unforeseen consequences, including with America’s negotiating partners.

Obama has warned that if Trump proceeds with hastily tearing up the accord, that could inadvertently force the U.S. to sanction some of its closest allies who are abiding by the agreement to do business with Tehran.

It’s unlikely, however, that Trump will follow through on his pledge, according to Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.

“I think they’re all going to decide having 15 years of no war with Iran is a good thing,” Landis said, referring to Trump and his advisors.

“If he were to tear it up, Iran will start refining again, and there will be tremendous pressure to bomb Iran, or to get in bed with Israel and have Israel bomb Iran,” he said. “And he’s not going to want to waste his time and energy bombing another damn Middle Eastern country. That’s exactly what he said he would not do.”

Trump has been less direct on the historic détente with Cuba, however, at times suggesting that he is “fine” with Obama’s efforts, while at others saying he would undermine them.

Asked about the likelihood he would roll back the diplomatic opening, University of San Francisco Professor Stephen Zunes said that other than a few “symbolic cutbacks”, Trump is likely to preserve the status quo for now, and could potentially expand ties in the future.

“It’s possible he even could eventually try to open things more simply because he is a businessman, and he’s made business deals in all sorts of countries which have worse human rights records than Cuba,” he said.

And while it is not clear if Trump will follow through on years of decrying the Syrian opposition, if he were to abandon U.S. support for “moderate rebel groups” and work with Russia to combat terrorists in Syria, that could prove to be a death knell for the rebels.

“Remember, all these ‘freedom fighters’ in Syria want to fly planes into our buildings,” Trump tweeted in 2013 before repeating similar claims on the campaign trail.

In a moment of candor, Obama acknowledged his Syria policies have “not worked”, but Trump has suggested he would almost completely change course and cooperate with Russia to defeat terrorists in Syria.

What that means is unclear, as Moscow and the Obama administration have very different interpretations of which groups should be proscribed, but Trump has indicated that he falls more in line with the Russian view.

If Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is any indication, the U.S.’ Syria policy could be in for a major overhaul.

In the days after Trump won the Nov. 8 election, Assad called his rising counterpart “a natural ally” against terrorist groups – the name he uses for all opposition forces.

That’s correct, Landis said, but potentially undermining Trump’s isolationist preferences are a slew of war hawks that are popping up as potential Cabinet appointees in a Trump administration.

Those include former U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and high-ranking Republican lawmakers Jeff Sessions and Tom Cotton.

All are reportedly leading candidates for secretary of state or secretary of defense, and all have stood against Obama’s Middle East policies.

The disparity in Trump’s foreign policy inclinations and his potential closest advisors stems from a dearth of like-minded individuals in establishment politics, particularly among his own party, Landis said.

“He’s got two choices: the Democratic establishment and the Republican establishment, and he can’t exactly go to the Democratic establishment where there are people who would fit his inclination, because there’s a certain segment of the Democratic establishment that is much more isolationist,” he said.

“The foreign policy experts he’s going to find are people from the Bush era, and they are all neocons who want to stick it to Russia and Iran,” he added.

How that dynamic is going to play out under Trump is anyone’s guess, but Zunes, the University of San Francisco professor, said it would be unlikely for Trump to engage the U.S. in the large-scale interventions seen in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“I don’t see him wanting to get bogged down anywhere,” Zunes said, “but I could see him doing some kind of reckless airstrikes, or that kind of thing.”

On domestic policy, Trump has already watered down some of his most invective-laden critiques of Obama’s hallmark policies, particularly the Affordable Care Act, which is supposed to bring universal health care to the U.S.

He has acknowledged that he would keep the law at least partially intact, and has walked back claims he would carry out a mass deportation of all undocumented migrants in the U.S.

In lieu of the mass deportations he promised on the campaign trail, Trump said he would focus on those with criminal records, which he tallied at around 2 or 3 million. The Associated Press called the number “a likely inflated figure.”

That inches him closer to Obama’s stance toward those living in the country illegally.

And while he has never been an ardent opponent of same-sex marriage, Trump said in his first post-election television interview that he is “fine” with it, and the matter is “settled”, deferring to the opinion of the Supreme Court, which made it legal across the country.

While that may not sit well with some Trump supporters, he has pledged to appoint “pro-life” justices to America’s highest court, suggesting that the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion in all states, could be overturned.

There is currently one vacancy on the court since the death of Antonin Scalia earlier this year and Republicans’ refusal in the Senate to hear an Obama appointee.

There could be more vacancies during a Trump presidency, as two justices are already 80 years or older, and another is close to reaching that milestone.

Bruce Jentleson, a professor of public policy at Duke University, believes if Trump fulfills his term “it is highly likely” he will appoint more than one justice.

“I think it will be very problematic,” he said. “It’s not an institution that you mess around with the way that Trump likes to mess around with institutions,” he said.

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Last Mod: 17 Kasım 2016, 12:00
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