US President Barack Obama’s farewell speech in Chicago on Tuesday, 10 days before he lays down office, was perhaps a bittersweet moment. America’s only non-white President appeared all too keenly aware that not only was his policy legacy of eight years in danger of being overturned by his successor, but that the underlying values of democracy — America’s identity before the world — might be at risk of being eroded in the changed climate that propelled his successor to victory.
Mr Obama could not have been more direct about this than when he said that America’s “boundless capacity for reinvention” will be realised “only if our democracy works. Only if our politics reflects the decency of our people. Only if all of us, regardless of our party affiliation or particular interest, help restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now”.
To his credit, Mr Obama swung the US around from a period of recession and brought back a sustained period of employment. He brought affordable healthcare to the poorest American. He addressed himself to environmental protection. He dispatched Osama bin Laden. He got Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons programme and re-forged ties with Cuba. These are in themselves major gains and account for the outgoing President’s impressive public ratings as he leaves office.
But the Democratic leader’s legacy in major areas is unlikely to withstand an onslaught by President-elect Donald Trump, who has publicly announced his intention to undo Obamacare, and the negotiations that produced the nuclear agreement of the major powers with Iran. Mr Trump also seems to have little time for climate mitigation and environmental protection. In the sphere of international relations, Mr Obama has left behind a mess in Syria, Iraq and Libya and struck a far from uncertain path in Afghanistan as he couldn’t contain Pakistan’s China-nurtured ambitions. With Russia, in particular, he rekindled a new hostility. Mr Trump’s policies in all these areas aren’t known yet, but he seems to be more inward-looking.
Mr Modi’s India emphasised its ties with Mr Obama’s America. With a new leader in the US who is “nationalistic” in his politics and economics, India may have to work harder than ever to rebalance its bilateral ties.