The World, Different Perspectives
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a month ago

Obama’s Long Goodbye Nearing Its Close

Barack Obama is bidding farewell to the American people at the end of his tenure as President through a series of addresses, essays and memos. His official farewell address is to take place on January 10, in his hometown of Chicago. In an exit letter released on January 4, he outlined his proudest achievements and biggest regrets in the last eight years. The letter included 27 individual exit memos written by top officials who are part of his administration.

Jacquelyn Martin - AP

One aspect Obama strongly regrets is his failure to secure gun control. He previously shared this sentiment with BBC in July 2015 and with CNN in December 2016. In the letter, he wrote, “There’s still so much I wish we’d been able to do, from enacting gun safety measures to protect more of our kids and our cops from mass shootings like Newtown.”

Stressing the need to improve how the U.S. looks at immigration, he also wrote that the country needs “commonsense immigration reform that encourages the best and brightest from around the world to study, stay, and create jobs in America.” Adding that there remains more work to do on the employment front, he wrote, “For all the incredible progress our economy has made in just eight years, we still have more work to do for every American still in need of a good job or a raise, paid leave or a dignified retirement.”

During a Fox News interview in April 2016, he said that lack of planning to deal with the aftermath of Gaddafi’s ouster in Libya was the biggest mistake he made when in office. After Gaddafi’s exit, the country spiraled into chaos, coming under attack from extremists. In the same interview, he said his worst day in office was when he travelled to Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012. This was after a gunman shot six staff members and 20 children in an elementary school.

The letter released on January 4 also listed what he considered notable achievements. These included securing Obamacare, shifting from coal to solar power, as well as pulling out of Afghanistan and Iraq. As before, he took pride in how his administration helped the country recover from the 2008 financial crisis. He wrote, “Eight years later, an economy that was shrinking at more than 8 percent is now growing at more than 3 percent. Businesses that were bleeding jobs unleashed the longest streak of job creation on record.”

The letter mentioned how no terrorist organization successfully planned and executed any attack on American soil in the last eight years. Obama reminded people that “terrorists like Osama bin Laden have been taken off the battlefield.” The letter also highlighted the thawing of U.S.-Cuba relations and the Iran nuclear deal.

Acknowledging that he could not accomplish all he wanted to as President, he wrote, “Still, through every victory and every setback, I’ve insisted that change is never easy, and never quick; that we wouldn’t meet all of our challenges in one term, or one presidency, or even in one lifetime.”

What will Obama do once he leaves the White House? In a June 2016 interview with Bloomberg, he said, “Had I not gone into politics, I’d probably be starting some kind of business.” He also added that “the skill set of starting my presidential campaigns — and building the kinds of teams that we did and marketing ideas — I think would be the same kinds of skills that I would enjoy exercising in the private sector.”

a month ago

Russia Begins Pulling Out of Syria, Trouble Keeps Brewing

On January 6, Russia announced it had started cutting back presence of its armed forces in Syria. Gen. Valery Gerasimov, Russian Armed Forces General Staff, said that warships led by Russia's only aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov, will leave the conflict area first. Whether or not Kuznetsov's planes will leave as well is not clear. This announcement comes at a time when Putin is sending envoys to organize talks between the Syrian government and its opposition.

Omar Sanadiki - Reuters

The withdrawal of Russian forces is in line with the nationwide cease-fire negotiated between the Syrian government, Russia, Turkey and rebel groups from Syria and Iran.

Since 2015, airstrikes by Russia have been crucial in giving Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces an upper hand. On January 6, Colonel-General Andrei Kartapolov, Commander of Russia’s Group of Forces in Syria, said that Russian naval aviation pilots had conducted more than 400 sorties in their two months presence, destroying over 1,250 terrorist facilities. Russia's state-run agency Sputnik said that the decision to reduce military presence in Syria came about because of a recommendation made by Sergei Shoigu, the Defense Minister of Russia.

The Turkish military continues its offensive against the Islamic State in the Al Bab region of Syria, and has suffered casualties. While the U.S. has offered to help Turkey multiple times in the last couple of weeks, the Turks have turned down America’s offers. Instead, Turkey has sought help from Russia, which it already received in the form of “several” airstrikes.

Reports show the Russia and Turkey brokered cease-fire is not as effective as hoped. The Wadi Barada area northwest of Damascus continues to witness fighting, as Hezbollah and regime forces try to get rebels out of the area. There have been instances of clashes in Deraa and southern Aleppo. On January 5, a car bomb attack in government-controlled town in Latakia province killed at least 11 people, wounding several others.

Damascus, the capital city, is facing a different kind of problem. For over two weeks, around 5.5 million people have been going through a water crisis. The problem began on December 22, when the city’s water supply from the Barada Valley stopped. While rebels have blamed the government for damaging infrastructure by shelling, Syrian officials say rebels deliberately damaged infrastructure and also poisoned the water. Taking the situation into account, the U.N. has warned that the water crisis in Damascus might constitute a war crime.

There is no clear indication from the incoming Trump administration on how it plans to proceed with Syria. As a result, American diplomats have been particularly careful about entering into any new initiatives that might require a sustained U.S. role in Syria.

The cease-fire appears to be on shaky ground already. How things go in the near future are bound to have a bearing on the mid-January talks set to take place in Kazakhstan, if they take place at all.

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