a farewell to Barack Obama

Edward Luce, Washington columnist and commentator for the Financial Times, will miss President Obama. So will others, in America and abroad.

The bizarre thing is that the same America which elected Mr Trump is already missing Mr Obama. This often happens to outgoing presidents. But in Mr Obama’s case it is unusually sharp. At 55 per cent his job approval is equivalent to Ronald Reagan’s at the same point, and ahead of Bill Clinton’s. It is more than 20 points higher than George W Bush’s. The more Mr Trump tweets from the gut, the more Americans appreciate Mr Obama’s calm weighing of pros and cons. “No drama Obama” is even making the case that Mr Trump be given a chance to succeed. “I think nothing is the end of the world until it is the end of the world,” he told the New Yorker.

Yet it is the end of the world as Mr Obama knew it. He must take some responsibility for its demise. He took office at a moment when the US-led global order was in the balance. Mr Bush’s ill-planned wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had shredded America’s standing in the Middle East and beyond. The financial crisis of 2008 had brought the US-created “Washington consensus” of free market orthodoxy into possibly terminal disrepute. America’s power was in decline but it was not too late to do something about it. ….

But Mr Trump will not reverse America’s relative decline. The chances are he will drastically accelerate it. …. The era of great power politics is back. …. Europe will be the loser. So too will American prestige.

Mr Obama, meanwhile, will settle down to his memoirs. If the past is any guide, they will be beautifully written. Here was a highly intelligent leader, and a fundamentally decent one, who strived to make the case for international co-operation to a world that was not really listening. Mr Obama came bearing hope. He leaves warning against fear. But the world’s attention has wandered. People are highly fearful — and rightly so.

Edward Luce, “Goodbye to Barack Obama’s world“, Financial Times, 26 November 2016 (metered paywall).

There is much more in the full column. Read it if you can. You will not be disappointed.

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