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Obama, US Politics, and Transatlantic Relations

Change or Continuity?


Edited By Giles Scott-Smith

In November 2008 Barack Obama was elected as President of the United States after a campaign that promised change and renewal. Many in the United States – and Europe – hoped for a new beginning. But what has been achieved?
The nineteen essays in this book provide a timely assessment of the ‘Obama Effect’ in transatlantic relations during the first years of his administration. Ranging from Obama’s importance within US domestic politics to his impact on specific policy areas (national security, international law, the environment) and regions (Middle East, South Asia), the book combines perspectives from the United States and across the European continent to present a unique multi-layered assessment of Obama’s political influence and the current state of play within US-European relations.


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PART V THE LEGAL DIMENSION 249 Keeping Promises? Obama and Human Rights Kasey L. MCCALL-SMITH University of Edinburgh The 2008 election of Barack Obama renewed European hopes that an about-face in future US foreign and domestic policy was on the horizon.1 Disregard for basic human rights and the rule of law had typified the George W. Bush years, exemplified by locations such as Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. Realisations about human rights violations, especially the malfeasance surrounding detained “enemy combatants” and interrogation techniques, strained US relations across the globe and particularly in Europe. Obama’s presidential bid comprised many promises of change for both the US population and the world at large, particularly in the area of human rights. He pledged to return to “a politics of conscience” and restore the justice and fairness that were founding principles of the country.2 The goals of which he spoke were those shared with Europe in its own campaign to promote and defend human rights at home and abroad.3 But have there been any tangible improvements? This chapter examines Obama’s human rights record, beginning with promises made during his campaign, as president-elect and at the begin- ning of his presidency in 2009. These promises will be evaluated in light of US obligations under international law. The current state of US human rights policy with respect to specific problematic issues carried over from the Bush years will then be considered, including the role that the EU has played in relation to Obama’s pledges to...

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