Many people around the world really liked Barack Obama when he was first elected US President in 2008. Smart, handsome and genuinely appealing, what was there not to like? But now people are having second thoughts.
The president, while a candidate, promised to shut down Guantanamo. Now it looks likely, as Time magazine has claimed on its front cover, that it will never close.
Though he authorised the military withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, he has considerably expanded the use of drones to assassinate militants and terrorist suspects in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Of the hundreds or even thousands killed, one in four is estimated to be civilians, according to the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism. The US justice department has issued legal opinions arguing the killing of Americans in drone attacks was justified because the US president says so. How's that for the imperial presidency?
In the White House's obsession with plugging leaks, it has clandestinely searched the phone records and e-mails of Associated Press journalists as well as the e-mails of a Fox television reporter. And now, we have the mother of all scandals for the Obama administration: Prism.
The programme sees US spy agencies secretly tapping into servers of internet and phone giants such as Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Google in a vast anti-terror sweep targeting foreigners and Americans alike. Whistle-blower Edward Snowden said he initially decided against taking the information public because he believed in Obama and thought the president would limit or reform the programme. In fact, Obama expands it.
How did a nice guy like Obama end up doing all these terrible things? It has less to do with the person, everything to do with the office. As the late French political philosopher Raymond Aron and others have observed, the nature of the US imperial presidency is such that powers and prerogatives, once taken, would not be given up. Effectively, these cumulative powers now include eavesdropping, assassinating, imprisoning and torturing anyone, foreigner or American citizen, deemed a potential threat to US national security. If this is not imperialist power, nothing is.