So change has finally embraced America. The nation that voted Barack Obama into office did so with huge hopes and expectations. The responsibilities and promises that he campaigned to deliver are of historic proportions both in terms of size and implications. He is presiding over two wars as Commander-in-Chief, he’s inheriting a budget deficit that has crept to almost $1 trillion, and the economy is in crisis.
For some people Obama was nothing more than showboy, a politician with a pop star profile who knew how to boost public ratings but knew nothing about running the affairs of the US presidency. They predicted him to falter ‘soon’ after he assumed the office. That didn’t quite happen. At least not in the first 100 days.
For many others, the ones who voted him into the office, Obama remains the source of inspiration and hope. John Lumea is a renowned Huffington Post writer and has followed him very closely during his 2 year long election campaign. “Barack Obama understands at a very profound level than most, [sic] what is required to turn a very large ship,” he said, while underlining the fact that expectations are ‘treacherously’ high for him. For John, 100 days is a drop in the bucket – especially after 8 years of Bush in power – and a pretty arbitrary measure to gauge his performance.
So let’s for a moment ignore both the pessimistic rant of the anti-Obama camp and the optimistic upbeat of the pro-Obama people and assess the challenges the man in the White House faces at the moment and review his performance on certain big issues so far.
Guantanamo Bay – Hotbed of Torture & Human Rights Violations
During his election campaign, Barack Hussein Obama described Guantanamo and the CIA’s secret prisons around the world as a “sad chapter in American history”, promising to close them as soon as possible.
And the promise was delivered swiftly. An executive order signed on the first full day of his presidency paved the way for the closure of the infamous detention centre within a year and declared that detainees and terror suspects would not be tortured by the US again.
The Obama administration also abandoned its use of the term “enemy combatant,” authorizing the Justice Department to depend on the international laws of war on individuals suspected of terrorism.
+ Amnesty International, The National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and other human rights groups, along with pro-Obama supporters, hailed the move as “a giant leap forward” but expressed concerns over some outstanding questions including the powers CIA might be granted by a judicial panel to resume using abusive methods.
– Republicans including former Bush administration officials, conservatives, some lawyers, and former US servicemen expressed their concern over the decision while underlining its future implications on the CIA and US military operations across the globe. Questioning the status of newly captured terrorists, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the influential veterans’ advocacy group, said it was “not prudent” to close the Guantánamo prison while the nation remained at war.
Obama’s score: 8/10
Abortion – Matter of Life & Death
During his electioneering, Obama had clear cut views about abortion and family planning and promised to reverse Bush’s ban on aid and counseling to women intent on having an abortion.
“It is time we end the politicization of this issue,” Obama said. “In the coming weeks, my administration will initiate a fresh conversation on family planning, working to find areas of common ground to best meet the needs of women and families at home and around the world,” the US President reiterated after signing the memorandum that reversed the “Mexico City policy,” initiated by President Reagan in 1984 that stopped funds for abortion programs. It was cancelled by President Clinton in 1993 only to be reinstated by President George W. Bush in 2001.
+ Pro-Choice groups, liberals and majority of the Black community welcomed the decision. According to Union University Professor Micah Watson approximately seventy percent of African-American children are born out of wedlock and abortion rates are alarmingly high among the community. International groups for women’s rights defended the decision urging that family planning should be seen as a basic health care issue vital to the well-being for women and children, and not as a political issue.
– Pro-Life groups, conservatives and majority of the Republicans assailed the decision. “This is a stunning reversal of course from the president’s campaign statements that he hoped to reduce the number of abortions. Just a day after thousands of Americans came to Washington to celebrate the principle of life, President Obama has made it clear that reducing abortions is not one of his priorities,” said Republican lawmaker Tom Price, a known critic of Obama and his abortion policies.
Reconciliation with the Muslim World
In one of his first formal TV interviews, President Obama spoke to the leading Middle Eastern media outlet Al-Arabiya, assuring Muslims that “Americans are not your enemies”. His reconciliatory tone was also echoed during the post-NATO summit trip to Ankara. In his address to the Turkish parliament he declared that “The United States is not, and never will be, at war with Islam. In fact, our partnership with the Muslim world is critical”.
+ Charmed by Obama’s first venture into the Muslim world, the President’s statements received a warm but cautious response. “Obama is much better than Bush,” Abed Taqoush, a 74-year-old flower shop owner in the Lebanese capital of Beirut. “Bush was a war criminal. Obama seems to be a man of peace.” “I believe him,” he said of Obama – a phrase echoed by many people across the Middle East and South Asia.
– Many others, like Tariq Hussein, a shoe shop owner in Ramallah, Occupied West Bank, expressed their skepticism. “I will believe him only when I see his troops leave Iraq and Afghanistan and when I see him telling the Israelis that it’s time for you to leave the Palestinian territories,” he said while bystanders unanimously agreed. “Other than that it’s all a political maneuver.”
It’s the Economy (Stupid!)
The $787 billion economic stimulus bill, dubbed as ‘The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’, is the largest single spending spree ever initiated by White House in the American history. Reminding of the ‘787 Boeing Dreamliner’, the bill is designed to give American businesses, families and individuals tax cuts, create jobs by improving the ailing infrastructure, boost education, overhaul the health care services, advance science and technology besides funding several other ambitious plans.
+ Democrats voted unanimously for the package in the House of Representatives. The bill was welcomed by many trade unions across the country along with a silent majority of people who hoped for its effectiveness.
– Republicans, on the other hand, showed their complete disapproval by casting all their 177 votes against the bill. Many people are skeptical about the nature of the bill and are cautious about its implications on the wider economy.