Obama’s executive order to close Guantanamo was deeply symbolic. It amounted to a repudiation of the Bush administration’s claim to untrammeled executive authority and the restoration of the rule of law. It was a return to the democratic values of the United States and an appeal for a continued political role for the US internationally.
This achievement was not purely Obama’s, but expressed the repugnance of the majority of US citizens with Bush’s departure from constitutional legitimacy.
However, this return to democratic ideals is not the same thing as reversing the extreme social inequality that has built up within the US over the last 30 years, nor does it resolve the social disruption related to globalization that has created desperation among the poorest and most downtrodden throughout the world.
Its effects include the “network” which Obama pledged the US to continue fighting. In Afghanistan and Gaza the US is looking to set up “states” it can negotiate with and which will discipline and channel the desperation of the peoples there. But it is unlikely that the US, or any power, can create a state from outside of these societies. The US wants a European form of representative state ; but the only legitimacy that has arisen there is a decidedly unsecular “Islamic” or tribal law. This turn to traditionalism does not have a single cause, but underlying it is social uncertainty and loss of resources, together with the history of Western intervention in these areas.
Whatever his intentions, Obama is constrained by the fact that the US is today inextricably connected to the global economy. He has not been in office long enough to show if he will channel the desire of people for change into social change, or to understand the role of the US from the viewpoint of particular struggles in the developing world.