Over a year ago, now, the entire world was electrified when Barack Obama won election for the post of President, the first black candidate to do so; they were just as relieved that George W. Bush was on the way out and that John McCain, who had moved sharply to the right, was not going to be entering into power. Many Americans were just as electrified, even people who did not vote for Mr. Obama. His siren calls of "Hope" and "Change" seemed to signal a new era of US politics.
Now, many people are considering Mr. Obama's term as president to be a failure, saying that he has not lived up to his promises - others believe he has betrayed the Democrat base that voted him into power. I've heard many people, people I admire, consider him "Republican lite", for instance. There have been many people who are very disappointed with Mr. Obama's lack of movement on Afghanistan and LGBT rights.
I cannot find myself disappointed with Mr. Obama's progress as President. We'll start with Afghanistan. Mr. Obama has recently announced that the United States will be sending more troops to Afghanistan. However, many people are trying to tell me that he has broken a promise. I find myself quietly reminding them that the President promised to "win" the war in Afghanistan - of course, winning in Afghanistan isn't a cut-and-dry procedure, like conquering Germany or the South was. Winning in Afghanistan is subjective.
Yet it was a promise. He's already began the process of withdrawing from Iraq (something he promised to do and that people are upset about). He's made pragmatic military decisions that people on the far left seem incapable of understanding. You can't just pick up and leave a country you've occupied. I find it paradoxical - the Republicans should be the ones demanding these sudden withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, given their supposed ideology, whereas Democrats should insist on cautious and measured withdrawals. After all, Republicans put "America first", or "troops first" and should want to safeguard their lives by removing them from hostile situations, whereas the simple fact that withdrawing from the occupied nations suddenly would lead to thousands and possibly millions of deaths in instant civil war should make Democrats, who proclaim to love human rights.
It is a stark reminder that Republicans and Democrats are labels that should be beyond left and right, and liberal and conservative, because both parties are a mixture of the two. Anyway, that is a subject for another post.
Andrew Sullivan has pointed out that Obama is pursuing a pass that lets the United States withdraw from Afghanistan concurrent with the end of international cooperation in ISAF (the NATO force currently working in Afghanistan). It should be remembered that whilst Mr. Bush took the US Army off to Iraq for no good reason, the emphasis of combat in Afghanistan shifted to the US's NATO allies, allies that supported the United States in the wake of 9/11, allies who pledged money, material, and lives to assist the Americans in avenging the lethal strikes on New York City and Arlington, VA. To leave now would be to leave them high and dry, to abandon 44,000 soldiers from NATO countries helping to prosecute the war against the Taliban.
Thank you, Mr. Obama, for giving the ISAF soldiers the backup they need to make some progress. Thank you for setting a firm date of withdrawal for US soldiers, and having it mirror international withdrawal targets. Now, NATO acts as one, as an alliance should. I can only imagine what we could have done in Afghanistan if there had been cooperation from the beginning.
When it comes to LGBT rights, I am saddened that there has been such backlash over the last year - Proposition 8 in California, Proposition 1 in Maine, and the recent NY Senate vote that was rather firmly in favour of retaining civil inequality (great term from Andy Sullivan). But there has also been gains - legislated civil equality in New Hampshire and the adoption of gay marriage rights in Iowa due to a court order. Things are coming to a head, I believe - it will be a long struggle, but it can be handled.
But nobody can accuse Barack Obama of being a friend of the LGBT community at this point, despite campaign promises. At the same time, I think you would be hard-pressed to call him an enemy. Yes, he has failed, so far, within a year, to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell and embrace equal rights in the US forces. But must we remember that it took Harry Truman 3 years to work up the balls to sign Executive Order 9981, and that Obama is in a difficult political climate.
He has not campaign for gay rights, but he has not campaigned against them, and given some of the recent history of LGBT equality in the United States, that is certainly something. He is not particularly known for his pro-gay platform, but that he is tolerant (which Mr. Bush was probably not) of the LGBT community. If he is going to take a political gamble on civil equality, it will not be now - it will be during an election year, much as Mr. Truman did with his order to desegregate the US military.
I think that many people lifted Obama, mentally, up in their minds as something above what he is. But he is still a dynamic figure, who I believe will make more changes as his term continues. Will he be a two-term president? Possibly, because I believe that freed of the concern for re-election he has a chance to be more liberal than he is now. But those who ever assumed he was something other than a politician? Welcome back to earth. Those of you who think that he is failing the American people by continuing the war in Afghanistan? Yes, some more American soldiers will die - but he promised to try, and that's what he's doing. And those of us who have seen our friends and family fight and die in Afghanistan whilst there wasn't the force available to resist the Taliban appreciate that he is going to try.