Obama’s legacy a mix of success, disappointments and failures

What the Arabic press is saying about the outgoing US president

President Barack Obama speaks at McCormick Place in Chicago. Charles Rex Arbogast / AP Photo
Powered by automated translation

Wrapping up eight years in office, Barack Obama, the 44th president of the United States, delivered his farewell address at McCormick Place in Chicago on Tuesday night.

Now the question is how will he be remembered?

The Arabic-language commentator, Wael Al Sawah, said Mr Obama would be remembered mainly for overseeing the economic recovery following the 2008 financial crisis as well as for his efforts to increase employment opportunities by creating 16 million new jobs in 2010. This year also recorded a 3 per cent wage increase, compared to the previous year.

“Twenty million Americans are grateful to Mr Obama for his generous healthcare plan. Liberal, African, Latin and Muslim Americans take pride in having elected the first black president in America’s history. Meanwhile, women will be grateful to Mr Obama, who bolstered their rights.

“Muslim Americans will remember how Mr Obama defended them and their religion in connection with the issue of terrorism, while civil servants will not forget his decisions that placed them on an equal footing with their private-sector counterparts in terms of wages,” he wrote in the London-based pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat.

But while most Americans will fondly remember Mr Obama, Al Sawah said that many Arabs did not feel the same way.

“Syrians, for one, will not forgive him for his indecisive and unclear stance over the conflict in their country. Nor will they forgive him for handing over their country to the Russians and Iranians.”

The writer noted that Syrians viewed Mr Obama as a weak president and some even considered him to be vile for contributing to the destruction of Syria, the displacement of its people and helping the dictator to stay in power.

“Syrians will remember the red lines that Mr Obama had drawn for president Bashar Al Assad, only to have them redrawn and watch Mr Al Assad trespass them one after the other,” he wrote.

It’s not just Syrians who nurture negative sentiments about Mr Obama.

“Many others around the globe believe that Mr Obama is the first US president to have lowered his country’s standing as the greatest power in the world in favour of Russia that occupied every gain made by the Americans, particularly in Syria and Ukraine.

“Mr Obama will be long remembered as the president under whom the Russians have hacked the Democratic Party’s servers.

“As a result, highly sensitive information was passed to WikiLeaks that contributed to the electoral defeat of Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton,” Al Sawah said.

He concluded that the worst thing that happened to Mr Obama was to hand over power to a racist, misogynist and Islamophobic successor – Donald Trump.

Writing in the same newspaper, Lebanese columnist Salim Nassar said that Mr Obama had taken much interest in the Middle East.

However, “the president was unable to make any intervention with regard to Israel’s settlement expansion across East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

“Add to this the warnings of his advisers against upsetting the Jewish lobby lest he should not win a second term, which was key to paving his way to Cuba and to a nuclear agreement with Iran,” Nassar noted.

At the beginning of his first term, the US president made sure to visit Turkey and Egypt. By doing so, he inaugurated an era of cooperation that would lead to a large-scale Sunni alliance to guarantee the region’s stability against the Iranian threat.

“Mr Obama had taken this initiative following his resolution to withdraw the US troops from Iraq. But he went back on his plan, leaving the way for Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani’s counter-initiative that led to the Geneva Agreement,” the writer added.

Nassar believed that Mr Obama’s political stances did not make him a neutral president nor a fair one for that matter.

“What remains of the 44th US president in the Arab collective memory is his rhetorical power and the magic of his words that often covered up the risks of his actions,” he concluded.

* Translated by Jennifer Attieh