I think Obama has done a good job as President compared to many of his predecessors, especially George W. Bush, one of the worst Presidents in modern history. Bush and Cheney slept while New York City and Washington were attacked. Then they retaliated against the wrong country. They created Guantanamo, America’s version of the Soviet gulags, located in another country, because it was such a horrible thing that we didn’t want it in the continental US, just as Hitler did not want Auschwitz within the borders of Germany. Under Bush and Cheney, America descended into a moral abyss. It fell to the level of the terrorists who attacked it. Obama has not done anything nearly as bad as that.
ObamaCare was not a complete success. Single-payer Medicare would have been preferable to the messy, hybrid, expensive system we got from the process, but it is better than nothing, which is what we had before. He has not gotten rid of Guantanamo, but at least he says he wants to and will try to do so before the end of his term.
His supposed admission that his one big failure was not restoring a civil dialogue between the Republicans and Democrats, is not really an acknowledgement of failure, it is just a nice sounding, back-handed way of saying, “I still can’t get along with those Republicans; they are just as nasty as ever.” It was more an insult than an admission of failure.
On the plus side, however, he tried to get us out of failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He did not entirely succeed in this, in large part because he inherited a horribly flawed situation from the previous administration. Bush started the destabilization of the Middle East, but Obama may have abetted it by his encouragement of the Arab Spring’s desire to throw out all the old leadership of the Middle East. Bush removed the foundation of Middle East stability, and Obama pushed over the unstable structure Bush left behind.
I believe that Obama has done the right thing regarding Syria by not getting us deeper into that civil war. The Syrian destruction of most of its chemical weapons was a plus for the conflict. We would probably be hearing many more gruesome stories about chemical attacks, surpassing the stories of starvation and mutilation resulting from more conventional warfare. Syria only presents a multitude of bad choices for the US, from want to do about Assad, to what rebel groups to support. There is no one who can replace Assad and end the war, and there is no rebel group who will be able to put an end to the civil war militarily, without massive help and massive casualties on the side of whoever helps them. The Republicans are anxious to see Americans die in Syria; I am not.
On the economy, Obama has so far been pretty much a success. He has restored employment, and under him the economy and the stock market have soared, compared with the great recession that Bush left for him. He still has a year left for the economy to crater, but the gains under his Presidency have been so enormous, that even a moderate drop would still leave his administration with a very positive result. He has been more willing to take on entrenched business and financial interests, but under his Presidency, consolidation of big business and banks has continued, and although he talks a good game against income inequality, it has increased on his watch. Nevertheless, things are much better than under Bush, and what he has done is vastly superior to what the nay-saying Republicans have advocated.
On foreign policy, the Republicans chafe at his unwillingness to kill everybody in sight, calling that weakness. But I believe that it shows strength. People may be more willing to challenge the US because they do not fear that Obama will nuke them for a small provocation, but they also see him as someone with whom they can negotiate. His Iran nuclear deal is far superior to a war with Iran. He showed strength in resisting Republican and Israeli screams for Iranian blood, based on some sort of extreme racial, religious and ethnic hatred. In the long run, Obama’s approach is more likely to prevent a nuclear arms race or war in the Middle East than a military attack.
Reestablishing relations with Cuba was another positive step. One reason I retired and left the Foreign Service was because of the Helms-Burton sanctions on Cuba. An Italian complained to me that his daughter could not get a visa to visit Disneyworld because he worked for the Italian phone company and they had some kind a connection to Cuba. It was too much like the German refusal to issue a visa to a Jewish child in order to prevent its mother from leaving Italy in one of the “Winds of War” books. I don’t approve of punishing children for the sins of their parents. The US bitterness and retaliation against Cuba has gone on too long. It was time to end it; it was time years ago, but Obama finally did it.
I am not a fan of free immigration. I issued visas for a tour in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and felt bad every time I denied a visa, knowing that a Mexican could just walk across the border if he or she were denied a visa, but that it was not so easy for a Brazilian to do so. Everyone looked the other way at illegal immigration for years. Business benefitted because it kept salaries low, and liberals looked the other way because they wanted to see poor foreigners help themselves by coming to America. Our immigration laws have been like Prohibition – strict laws on the books that are ignored in everyday life. The law should be changed so that it can and will be enforced, whatever it turns our to be, strict or liberal. Meanwhile, I don’t think there is much of a problem denying anyone who is a foreigner a visa for any reason; non-citizen, non-residents outside the US have no Constitutional protections, and keeping out anyone that poses even the least risk to the country is legal; we only need to decide what level that “least risk” should be.