Naomi Klein on Barack W Bush

She agrees with me on how Obama has let us down

As the author of the rather controversial and provocative cover article for last week's New Statesman, "How Obama went wrong and became . . . Barack W Bush", which argued that the president of the United States has continued, adopted or simply adapted the policies of his disgraced predecessor on a range of isses at home and abroad, I couldn't help but smile as I read Naomi Klein's piece in the Guardian yesterday.

The thrust of Klein's argument is best expressed in the headline: "Obama isn't helping. At least the world argued with Bush". She writes:

The Nobel committee, which awarded the prize for Obama's embrace of "multilateral diplomacy", is evidently convinced that US engagement on the world stage is a triumph for peace and justice. I'm not so sure. After nine months in office, Obama has a clear track record as a global player. Again and again, US negotiators have chosen not to strengthen international laws and protocols but to weaken them, often leading other rich countries in a race to the bottom.

She then runs through the increasingly familiar list of failures, let-downs and setbacks, from climate change to Israel/Palestine to regulation of banking, and adds, in her concluding paragraph:

Of course, Obama has made some good moves on the world stage -- like not siding with the Honduras coup government, or supporting a UN women's agency. But a clear pattern has emerged: in areas where other rich nations were teetering between principled action and negligence, US interventions have tilted them towards negligence. If this is the new era of multilateralism, it is no prize.

I couldn't agree more. While I welcomed the election of Barack Obama, both predicting and supporting his victory, first over pro-war Hillary Clinton and adulterous John Edwards in the Democratic primaries, and then over the kooky Republican hawk John McCain in the actual election, I always worried that his popularity, charm, genuine decency and liberal values would give America's political, financial and military elite a cover under which to continue with business as usual.

Don't get me wrong: despite the provocative and amusing cover image on our magazine last week, I don't believe Obama is Bush. Of course not. Few human beings can ever begin to resemble the unprecedented combination of ignorance, incompetence, elitism, belligerence, dishonesty, corruption, pure selfishness and indifference to humanity that characterised the 43rd president of the United States (now safely retired in Dallas, Texas). Obama has, as Klein says, "made some good moves on the world stage" and I do happen to believe that he is, at core, a decent human being -- though of course I may be wrong. But, as I argued on my blog, he does not deserve a Nobel prize (yet!), and as I argued in my longer piece:

. . . the former Illinois senator raised the hopes of millions of people across the US and the world to an extent never seen in modern politics, talking repeatedly of change, reform and renewal, and suggesting he would erase the legacy of his disliked and disgraced predecessor from day one. It was inevitable that even the slightest sense of continuity in policy, personnel or practice would disappoint, as it has. Obama, however, has gone further, adopting his predecessor's positions on a wide variety of issues, from the parochially domestic to the grandly geopolitical.

He has three, or perhaps seven, more years to turn things around, get things right, and prove to America and the world that his changes are real changes -- or, to borrow a phrase, that his presidency represents change we can believe in.

Oh, and for John Pilger's typically passionate and polemical view in this week's magazine, on Obama, war and peace and the Nobel Prize, click here.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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PMQs review: Theresa May shows how her confidence has grown

After her Brexit speech, the PM declared of Jeremy Corbyn: "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue". 

The woman derided as “Theresa Maybe” believes she has neutralised that charge. Following her Brexit speech, Theresa May cut a far more confident figure at today's PMQs. Jeremy Corbyn inevitably devoted all six of his questions to Europe but failed to land a definitive blow.

He began by denouncing May for “sidelining parliament” at the very moment the UK was supposedly reclaiming sovereignty (though he yesterday praised her for guaranteeing MPs would get a vote). “It’s not so much the Iron Lady as the irony lady,” he quipped. But May, who has sometimes faltered against Corbyn, had a ready retort. The Labour leader, she noted, had denounced the government for planning to leave the single market while simultaneously seeking “access” to it. Yet “access”, she went on, was precisely what Corbyn had demanded (seemingly having confused it with full membership). "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue,” she declared.

When Corbyn recalled May’s economic warnings during the referendum (“Does she now disagree with herself?”), the PM was able to reply: “I said if we voted to leave the EU the sky would not fall in and look at what has happened to our economic situation since we voted to leave the EU”.

Corbyn’s subsequent question on whether May would pay for single market access was less wounding than it might have been because she has consistently refused to rule out budget contributions (though yesterday emphasised that the days of “vast” payments were over).

When the Labour leader ended by rightly hailing the contribution immigrants made to public services (“The real pressure on public services comes from a government that slashed billions”), May took full opportunity of the chance to have the last word, launching a full-frontal attack on his leadership and a defence of hers. “There is indeed a difference - when I look at the issue of Brexit or any other issues like the NHS or social care, I consider the issue, I set out my plan and I stick to it. It's called leadership, he should try it some time.”

For May, life will soon get harder. Once Article 50 is triggered, it is the EU 27, not the UK, that will take back control (the withdrawal agreement must be approved by at least 72 per cent of member states). With MPs now guaranteed a vote on the final outcome, parliament will also reassert itself. But for now, May can reflect with satisfaction on her strengthened position.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.