If someone told me that President Obama would achieve a majority of his most defining presidential moments following the disastrous 2014 midterm elections I would have bowled over laughing. Understanding that midterms usually turn out more GOP voters than Democrat, the avalanche of conservative, tea party-cowing Republicans that emerged victorious was not only painful but frightening. Since then we have witnessed a political discourse and fanaticism composed of an increase in hyper religious purity, Muslim-bashing, immigrant demonization, anti-education, -Social Security, -Medicare, -healthcare, -gay marriage, -LGBT military service, -compromise, and so forth. There’s a reason the GOP is termed the “party of no”. The domestic scene has been fraught with mayhem and an unending diatribe of fear and discord on repeat.
Yet despite all the hostility, Obama has done what many thought was the unimaginable.
It’s no secret that America’s international brand has been seriously tarnished following the failed wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and broader War on Terror. We have compromised our principles, laughed at due process and rule of law, embraced a Big Brother style of government regarding wireless taps and illegal invasions of privacy, and have lowered ourselves to the same regard for human life as our enemies with each act of torture. Our transformation from home of the brave and defender of the free world to international bully and hypocrite has allowed our enemies to grow in strength and numbers by aligning themselves as anti-American and our allies to keep us at arm’s length out of embarrassment.
The damage to our international image, not to mention our foreign policy clout, has seemed irreparable. However, since his reelection and following the 2014 midterms Obama has taken a more aggressive diplomatic approach than the pre-emptive strike and Bush Doctrine we have become accustomed to; fulfilling many of the foreign policy campaign promises he made back in 2008 that have seemed out of reach.
In December he normalized relations with Cuba by restoring full diplomatic ties. Since the announcement the Obama Administration has taken an accelerated approach by enacting new travel and trade regulations, permitting airlines to travel to Cuba, travelers to spend money in-country, expanding sales and exports of American goods, and reviewing Cuba’s designation as State Sponsor of Terrorism; all of which culminated in the July 1, 2015 announcement that the two countries would reopen embassies on July 20, 2015. In doing so, Obama ended an outdated approach that for over 50 years did nothing to address the growing economic disparity and lack of civil and human rights that has become commonplace in Cuba. By normalizing ties and dusting off the vestiges of Cold War policies long-buried, there is finally a chance to really effect social, economic, and political change.
Today, Iran and the P5+1 (UN Security Council members plus Germany) announced that they had reached and finalized a deal to limit Tehran’s nuclear capacity for at least the next 10 years. Both sides made ample concessions: Iran has agreed to international supervision over its military installations, reduction of its centrifuges by two-thirds, and bans on enrichment procedures and limited uranium research, while the P5+1 agreed to lifting international oil and financial sanctions and embargos on the sale of conventional weapons and missiles. This isn’t to say that the deal is either perfect or fool-proof but it does demonstrate that practical diplomatic engagement has brought Obama and the international community a victory that over a decade of animosity and doomsday language could not.
Now comes the hard part – UN and US congressional approval. GOP hopefuls and the most virulent of the right-wing, Israeli caucus are crying wolf; setting up an apoplectic narrative that sounds tired and stuck in the past. But that doesn’t really matter. They can vent and rail against the deal as much as they want to appease their donors and base. Even if Congress passes a “resolution of disapproval” rejecting the accord, Obama will veto the legislation sending it back to Congress, which would then need a two-thirds vote in both chambers to override his veto. This is where fantasy takes hold for the Iran hawks. If the 150 House Democrats keep to their pledge to support the deal then Congress will be unable to override Obama’s veto. And with public opinion broadly supporting a finalized deal, I don’t see too many Democrats going back on their word.