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.

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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