Like many people I was pleased when United States President Barak Obama won another four-year term in the White House on 06 November 2012. The Republican candidate Willard Mitt Romney had fought a race characterised by costly and unncessary gaffes on issues as diverse as welfare, foreign policy, women rights and the economy. But I would be remiss to ignore President Obama’s mistakes over the last four years and fail to point out the significant challenges that lie before him between now and 20 January 2017.
President Obama made significant human rights promises when he came to office, including to close down Guantanamo Bay. This facility has become synonymous with a War on Terrorism that has tested and damaged America’s reputation on human rights in the eyes of many. It’s ability to tell other nations off in the United Nations for arbitrary detention, torture and rights to a fair trial have been tested by the tendency to treat the combatants taken in Afghanistan and Iraq like franc tireurs. More disturbingly, the President has authorised a massive increase in the use of drones for precision strikes against targets, especially in Pakistan, whose tribal regions are considered to be a breeding ground for al-Qaida militants. The legality of these strikes, the unaccountability of the White House and Pentagon officials over their authorisation and the many ethical issues that they raise indicates that the White House believes this highly questionable mode of execution to be justified. Because of these broken promises he has reduced his standing in the eyes of many human rights activists.
The war on drugs continues to rage when it does not need to. President Obama has a golden opportunity to:
- Save billions of dollars a year by ending the war on drugs.
- Vastly improve America’s standing in Latin America and other countries where narcotics are funding a black market and underworld by investing the money saved in law enforcement, education and assistance for drug users.
- Review how the United States authorities enforce the law on drug use to reduce the burgeoning prisoner population in America.
President Obama is dealing with a fiscal cliff, a debt problem that just will not go away, but which is the result of decades of economic mismanagement by Republicans and Democrats alike. And as libertarians never hesitate to point out, the American Tax Code is apparently an enormously complex document that is more than a million words long. If one put that onto paper at say 450 words a page, it would be about 2220 pages long. In a nation as big and diverse as the United States is, a sizeable Tax Code should not be terribly surprising, representing the complexity of the nations needs. However in a 2220-odd page long document I think some scope for simplification exists. President Obama could steal a significant march on the Republicans and libertarians by sanctioning a review of the Tax Code.
I was not going to mention the problems with America’s gun laws, but the recent massacre at Sandy Hook elementary school of so many innocent people once again brings a harsh spotlight on the problems. How many others nations in the West have had gun massacres of this size more than once in the last couple of decades. New Zealand had one in 1990 at Aramoana, where a gun man named David Gray killed 12 people plus the gun man; Australia had the Port Arthur massacre in 1996 where Martin Bryant shot dead 35 people; around the same time as Port Arthur – give/take a few weeks – a nutter went mad at Dunblane in Scotland killing 16 people. But these are the exception rather than the norm. Australia’s licensed gun owners gave up their automatic weapons after that. I don’t think do nothing is an option any longer. President Obama is going to have to address this most thorny problem before another gun man goes on the rampage.
Another problem is the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. This is a thorny one that threatens to hurt friends such as New Zealand if it is not permitted to be test driven and the shroud of secrecy lifted on the conditions of negotiation. Australia has refused point blank on some conditions, partially because of its painful experience negotiating and implementing a Free Trade Agreement with the United States. If the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement is going to work these issues should be addressed. If they are not, President Obama faces a potentially humiliating trade failure. He could instruct his negotiators to respect the sovereignty of other nations, such as New Zealand.
Finally, President Obama will have to address the problem posed by the Middle East quagmire. Will he permit Israel to continue on its path of self-alienation, alienating it from every country in the world that used to be sympathetic to the Jewish state? What will he do in Syria, where providing a chaotic post-Assad descent into Iraq-type madness is a necessity? President Obama does not have all of the cards, nor all of the answers. He will need co-operation from countries around the world, rivals and friends alike to stabilise this region and douse at least some of the many individual fires burning.
If this is anything to go by, the workload of the White House between now and when President Obama’s successor takes office, is going to be impressive. Let us hope Obama uses his time wisely because there is a lot riding on these next four years.