Unfortunately, American politics became little more than sports to voters long ago. In this way, we root for our different “teams,” or political parties, and certain political narratives begin to take shape. And one of the biggest narratives is that Barack Obama was a very progressive and liberal president, serving as a breath of fresh air to voters after the warmongering of George W. Bush and before the bombastic chaos of Donald Trump.
As usual, the reality is a bit more complicated. Not only is Obama not the progressive bastion of liberal politics that many think, but he took a number of shady actions that were just as bad (and often worse) than the conservative presidents before and after him. What, then, were the shadiest things about Barack Obama’s presidency? Keep reading to discover them all!
Not going after Wall Street after the economy collapsed
The economic collapse that began in 2008 is one where people are still figuring out which president shares more of the blame. After all, this financial meltdown occurred during the latter days of the George W. Bush presidency, and Obama had to inherit a serious mess. As NBC reports, a staggering 600,000 people lost their jobs in January of 2009, the same month that Obama was inaugurated as president.
When it came to pretty speeches, Obama seemed to know exactly who to blame. As The Guardian reports, he spoke in 2010 about how the banks, lenders, and other financial institutions had taken “huge, reckless risks in pursuit of quick profits and massive bonuses.” At this point, things seemed clear: go punish the CEOs that nearly destroyed the economy in the name of profit…right?
Wrong. Not only did Obama fail to prosecute any of the shady CEOs who did this (signing the ineffectual Dodd-Frank Act was never going to be enough), but he spent millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars bailing out failing financial institutions. This created the idea that such institutions are “too big to fail,” effectively giving a pass to executives who screwed over millions of people in the name of personal profit.
Flip-flopping on the Patriot Act
Back when Barack Obama was just a senator, he often criticized the Patriot Act that was authorized under the George W. Bush administration. As reported by Obama Speeches, he said that the act authorizing surveillance on American citizens threatened “the rights of all Americans and the ideals America stands for.” However, once he was elected president, Obama suddenly became a very big fan of spying on citizens.
For example, he ended up extending various parts of the act, including Section 215 allowing the government to peek at customers’ records from various private companies. According to The Guardian, things reached a head in 2013 when Edward Snowden leaked info showing just how bad things had gotten under Obama. Not only was the administration spying on millions of Americans, but they had made a deal with Verizon to hand over all of their immense telephone data to the NSA on an “ongoing, daily basis.” At this point, the main person threatening “the rights of all Americans” was none other than Barack Obama!
No punishment for torturers
Some of the ugliest things about George W. Bush’s presidency were related to his so-called “war on terror.” This included creating the Abu Ghraib prison in which people could be thrown indefinitely with no trial and potentially no hope of getting out. That would have been monstrous enough on its own, but it eventually came out that some of the detainees were getting tortured and that some of them had died.
No matter how you slice it, these were textbook war crimes. And when he was on the campaign trail, Barack Obama made a lot of noise over investigating these war crimes and punishing those who had tortured and murdered fellow human beings. Once elected, though, he immediately softened his stance on such recriminations, and as the New York Times reports, he said, “I don’t want [the CIA] to suddenly feel like they’ve got spend their all their time looking over their shoulders.”
By 2012, all of the criminal charges had been dropped for those responsible for torture and murder at Abu Ghraib. But this wasn’t a surprise…Obama had already made it abundantly clear that these war crimes were simply the cost of doing business on the global stage.
That time he had an American citizen assassinated
Many of Obama’s questionable decisions in the Middle East are divisive because some people saw them as cruel and inhumane and others saw them as just part of a neverending war on terror. However, Obama ended up blurring the lines in a big way when he had the American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki assassinated.
There are, of course, mitigating factors. The man was also a Muslim cleric who was reportedly a leader in Al-Qaeda, so for Obama and many Americans, the drone strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki was just another step we took to remove an international terrorist from the board. However, regardless of his terrorist status, the man was still an American citizen, and American citizens were forbidden as assassination targets since Gerald Ford’s time as president.
Obama had the legal authority to label Anwar al-Awlaki as an enemy of the country and have him killed. But the fact that an American citizen was killed without any kind of charges or formal trial still sits poorly with many citizens.
Obama’s failures in Syria and Libya
In retrospect, Barack Obama wasn’t as flashy as George W. Bush when it came to taking major actions in the Middle East. But he still took some bold moves in places like Syria and Libya. Unfortunately, these bold moves kept backfiring in a way that got others killed.
With Syria, Obama had previously pledged to remove Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. But his administration provided insufficient support to rebels in the area and never established any sanctuaries in Syria for rebels to gather and organized. Making matters worse, Obama previously said that Syria using chemical warfare was a “redline” that would result in punitive action, but after Syria called his bluff and used such weapons, The Atlantic reports Obama canceled his planned retaliation, which arguably emboldened Russian dictator Vladimir Putin to take troops through Syria and into Crimea.
The situation with Libya was a bit different. By creating a no-fly zone and providing Tomahawk missiles as needed, Obama’s administration successfully managed to topple Gadhafi. However, as Business Insider reports, Obama himself admits that he never planned for “the day after” such a victory. According to some critics, Obama didn’t realize (or just didn’t care) that he unraveled a George W. Bush diplomatic victory from 2003 in which Gadhafi gave up Libya’s nuclear program in hopes of becoming a respected world power again. Once other nations such as North Korea saw what America did to a country after they gave up their nukes, these nations realized there is basically no upside to giving up on their own nuclear weapons programs.