Monday 19 March 2018

'Future we want is within reach if we work together'

Obama remains firmly devoted to achieving the goals he has championed, including the Iran nuclear deal and tighter gun laws, writes Rachel Lavin


Rachel Lavin

Despite his current critics, Obama will probably be remembered as one of the most well-liked US presidents in recent history. Perhaps it's because of his fundamental optimism that has been unwavering in his eight years as president. And last week, even as he gave his final State of the Union address, there was still no sign of it diminishing into political weariness.

"The future we want ... all that is within our reach," he said. "But it will only happen if we work together."

In his speech, Obama implored an increasingly polarised body politic in America to work together, saying: "It's one of the few regrets of my presidency - that the rancour and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better."

This is true for those vying to be Obama's predecessor, as candidates in the 2016 presidential race descended on Iowa last week, a state where the polls are always seen as a good indication of the popular vote. Bernie Sanders, dismissed early on as too leftist for America, has emerged as a dark horse, quickly gaining on assumed favourite for the democratic nomination, Hilary Clinton. The pair are neck and neck and it is believed that whoever becomes the second choice of supporters for Martin O'Malley will swing the vote.

Similarly, despite the wishful thinking of many, Trump is still threatening to win the Republican nomination. The GOP is increasingly anxious not to see him win, with Ted Cruz as the main alternative, but what if Trump then runs as a third-party candidate, splitting the republican vote? Regardless, the popularity of the far-right Trump and leftist Sanders shows the gap between democrats and republicans is growing more and more extreme.

While Obama continues to try to bridge that gap in the few months he has left as President, he also remains devoted to achieving the goals he has championed including the Iran nuclear deal, which will see Iran allow the US to monitor its nuclear sites in exchange for lifting sanctions. While a sudden crisis unfolded hours before his speech, in which Iran took two US Navy boats and 10 American sailors into custody after they were found in Iranian waters, Obama didn't even reference the incident in his speech, not letting the hiccup be blown out of proportion into an 'international incident' that would compromise the deal.

Indeed, the sailors claimed they had merely drifted off course after one of their engines failed and Iran quickly returned the soldiers and their boats unharmed.

While Obama has not been able to close Guantanamo Bay as he promised, last week saw the numbers of prisoners reduced to double digits for the first time in over a decade with 10 low-level Yemeni detainees moved to Oman.

His final goal of tightening gun legislation which he is determined to achieve before his presidency ends was signified by a seat left empty beside Michelle Obama, representing victims lost to gun violence.

Referencing other issues he has led on, such as climate change, economic recovery and the threat of Isil, Obama ended with his eternal earnest optimism.

"That's the country we love. Clear-eyed. Big-hearted. Optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word. That's what makes me so hopeful about our future. Because of you. I believe in you."

Meanwhile, in Europe, the optimism Merkel proffered over offering sanctuary to over a million refugees is under attack. Cynicism over the success of her open door policy has become deeply entrenched following the Cologne attacks among the right.

Around 2,000 anti-Muslim 'Legida' protesters marched through the German city of Leipzig on Monday night, with a group of 211 rioting in the southern part of the city.

In Poland, protestors unfurled a banner at a sporting event that read "protect your women, not our democracy", referencing how tensions are mounting with Germany following the threat of EU sanctions as its new right-wing government reversed Poland's commitment to taking in migrants as part of the European resettlement programme.

Meanwhile, Denmark's MPs debated seizing the assets of asylum seekers, a proposal condemned by the UN refugee agency and human rights groups, with some comparing the idea to the treatment of Jews before the holocaust.

Suspicion over offering sanctuary to migrants was added to in Istanbul as an Isil suicide bomber who killed 11 last Tuesday, including 10 German tourists, was later revealed to have crossed the Turkish border as a refugee.

Terrorism also touched Indonesia, as Isil extremists detonated bombs and engaged in gunfire with police in Jakarta killing two civilians and wounding 20 in what officials called a 'marauding terrorist firearms attack'.

Islamist extremists also attacked a town near Cameroon's border with Nigeria, with two female suicide bombers entering a mosque during prayer time, killing 10 and wounding a dozen.

Claimed by Boko Haram, it is one of many attacks in the last year aimed at Cameroon and other countries supporting the Nigerian military's increasingly successful efforts to crush the extremist group.

But while President Buhari recently claimed that Nigeria had already 'technically won the war', many critics claim his comments were premature.

In some good news, aid was finally delivered to the besieged Syrian city of Madaya providing relief to residents who were at risk of dying of hunger after 35 already starved to death in the last month. The UN warned there are potentially 15 other locations under siege in Syria and 450,000 who are being denied access to food and medicine.

After a week marred by death and suffering, both among victims of war and terror and even popular figures in the West, spirits have been dampened as we enter 2016. However, as heart-breaking images from Madaya rolled in, The Guardian offered some rational tempered optimism, not unlike Obama's, writing: "One day peace will come. And then the Assad regime and its allies must be held to account by the international community."

Sunday Independent

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