US President Barack Obama delivers his final State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in Washington January 12, 2016. .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A few days ago, US President Barack Obama gave his last State of the Union address at a joint meeting of the Senate and Congress. His hair is a bit grayer and the lines on his face are a little deeper than they were when he took office. Many tragedies have taken place during these seven years. The many expectations and hopes for what he would accomplish during his terms as president crashed and dissipated one after another. Granted, Obama still has 12 months left in his term, but no one ever expects much to happen in an election year.
Not many people recall that Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, less than a year after taking office.
The prize committee realized at some point the absurdity of their choice, and so they wrote in the description that they were expecting great things from Obama, such as, “making efforts to strengthen diplomacy and international cooperation.” Obama was an unusual choice, since the Nobel Prize is usually awarded to people for things they’ve already accomplished, rather than the possibility of something occurring in the future.
Perhaps this reflected the high hopes everyone had for Obama, after he managed to break through every barrier on his way to the White House.
Obama is a big advocate of diplomacy. He succeeded a republican president who often used massive force. Obama, on the other hand, chose to take the path of diplomacy that is based on the passive use of force. He supports engaging in public diplomacy, in dialogue between different nations, and of course in settling disputes in peaceful ways.
As a result, it was sad to watch the president make every effort to convince his constituents that the US is still the strongest superpower in the world.
The planet Earth of January 2016 is a cruel and violent place. The wounded Middle East that is bleeding profusely is sending out tentacles of evil to all four corners of the globe. Russia has returned to the international scene with a vengeance. Now in his second term, Putin is more determined than ever to regain his international status. He’s shown who’s boss in Crimea, he’s adamant not to lose his stronghold in the Syrian port of Tartus, he’s selling weapons to Iran, and is challenging Obama at every available opportunity. North Korea is testing its hydrogen bomb and China is expanding its control over the Far East and is threatening its neighbors.
It’s true that Obama can brag about having successfully reached an agreement with Iran during his term, which of course he did not forget to mention in his State of the Union address, but this arrangement is extremely controversial and it is still too early to tell if this will put an end to this insane nuclear arms race.
In the war between the US and ISIS, Obama has been learning the hard way what the limits of his power are. All the sophisticated American technology combined cannot destroy an organization that’s based on pickup trucks with mounted machine guns. Just as after 9/11, the US has yet to find a way to tackle global terrorism.
“Just ask Osama bin Laden,” Obama suggested in his speech. Bin Laden may no longer be a threat, but Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS is, and the US’s long arm cannot seem to reach him.
The US also failed in its attempt to unseat Assad – its support of the rebels apparently wasn’t enough to bring about his downfall.
Obama will most likely be remembered for his hesitation to use force in the international arena. It’s no wonder that America’s enemies took advantage of this weakness and filled the void he left.
Obama is also frustrated about the way events have transpired on the domestic front. Granted, his health reform bill passed, and the US has for the most part emerged from its economic crisis, but American society is completely polarized socially, social and economic gaps have deepened, and Donald Trump’s success is a real indicator that minorities, people of color and immigrants are suffering from an acute disadvantage. And it doesn’t look like any of this is going to change anytime soon.
Obama also lost the battle for gun control. The tears that fell from his eye during his last speech on the subject speaks louder than a thousand words.
Obama refrained from specifically mentioning Israel in his speech, but he cannot hide his disappointment in Israel, mainly with respect to relations with the Palestinians.
Just a few weeks ago, he sent Secretary of State John Kerry here in a last desperate attempt to revive negotiations, but Kerry returned home empty-handed.
As Obama has said more than once, the US cannot want to reach an agreement more than the Israelis and Palestinians themselves. Both sides are acting tough and refusing to make any unilateral moves forward, but none of this has lessened US support of Israel. In fact, the US is still offering the same high level of military and political aid to Israel, and yet the Israeli administration does not seem to appreciate this. We can also assume that there are connections between the Israeli and American authorities behind the scenes that we don’t know about.
The apparent erosion of Israel’s democratic character has made life difficult for Obama, and so he had US Ambassador Dan Shapiro set up a special meeting with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked to discuss these issues. The relationship between our two countries is still special, but the weight of our common values has shriveled.
In my opinion, this is an seriously problematic situation for Israel. A country’s interests do not play as vital a role as its core values. Interests can change, but a country’s values remain constant – they are its true assets. When Obama hands over the reins to his successor next January in a ceremony on Capital Hill, I hope that he will call on his successor to continue strengthening America’s shared values with Israel.
Israel needs to internalize that these are inalienable beliefs and it must not lose sight of them in the post-Obama era.The author is an MK from the Zionist Union Party, member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and holds a PhD in political science and communications. Translated by Hannah Hochner.