Protest against the Guantanamo Bay detention center in front of the Supreme Court building in 2008. (photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Karen J. Greenberg | TomDispatch | Reader Supported News | April 19, 2016
With only nine months to go, in the fashion of modern presidents, Barack Obama is already planning his post-presidential library, museum, and foundation complex. Such institutions only seem to grow more opulent and imperial as the years and administrations pass. Obama’s will reportedly leave the $300 million raised for George W. Bush’s version of the same in the dust. The aim is to create at least an $800 million and possibly billion-dollar institution. With his post-Oval Office future already in view and his presidency nearly history, his “legacy” has clearly been on his mind of late. And when it comes to foreign policy, he definitely has some accomplishments to brag about. The two most obvious are the Iran nuclear deal and the opening to Cuba. In their own ways, both could prove game changers, breaking with venomous relations that lasted, in the case of Iran, for more than three and a half decades, and in the case of Cuba, for more than half a century.
You can already imagine the exhibits celebrating them at the Barack Obama Presidential Center to be built on the south side of Chicago. But it’s hard not to wonder how that institution will handle the three major foreign policy promises the new president made in the distant days of 2008-2009. After all, he was, in part, swept into the presidency on a blunt promise to end George W. Bush’s catastrophic war in Iraq. (“So when I am Commander-in-Chief, I will set a new goal on Day One: I will end this war.”) Nine years later, he’s once again taken this country into the Big Muddy of an Iraq War, either the third or fourth of them in the last five presidencies (depending on whether you count the Reagan administration support for Saddam Hussein’s war with Iran in the 1980s). At this moment, having just dispatched B-52s, the classic Vietnam-era carpet-bombing plane of choice (Ted Cruz must be thrilled!) to Qatar as part of that war effort, and being on a mission-creep path ever deeper into what can only be called the Iraq quagmire, we’re likely to be talking about a future museum exhibit from hell.
But it won’t begin to match the special exhibit that will someday undoubtedly explore the president’s heartfelt promise to work to severely curtail the American and global nuclear arsenals and put the planet on a path to — a word that had never previously hovered anywhere near the Oval Office — nuclear abolition. The president’s disarmament ambitions were, in fact, significantly responsible for his 2009 Nobel Prize, an honor that almost uniquely preceded any accomplishments. Now, the same man is presiding over a planned three-decade, trillion-dollar renovation and modernization of that same arsenal, including the development of an initial generation of “smart” nukes, potentially first-use weapons. It’s certainly been a unique path for our first outright anti-nuclear president to take and deserves a special place of (dis)honor at the future Obama center.