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.
Stem Cell Research
Fulfilling another campaign promise, Obama signed another executive order to reverse former president George W. Bush’s policy on stem cell research. The former Republican president signed a directive in 2001 that banned federal funding for research into stem lines created after that date.
“Medical miracles do not happen simply by accident,” Obama said soon after signing the bill adding that rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values. “In this case, I believe the two are not inconsistent. As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering. I believe we have been given the capacity and will to pursue this research and the humanity and conscience to do so responsibly,” he said while speaking to reporters after signing the historic document.
+ Scientists, researchers, and academics welcomed the decision along side a majority of Americans who support medical research using embryonic stem cells. “We’ve got eight years of science to make up for,” said Dr. Curt Civin, whose research allowed scientists to isolate stem cells and who now serves as the founding director of the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Center for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine. “Now the silly restrictions are lifted.”
– Meanwhile, conservative Republicans, including supporters of Bush expressed their dismay while insisting that they were defending human life. Family Research Council, which advocates for a “Judeo-Christian worldview” and warns against the reproductive cloning of a human being, opposes the use of embryonic stem cells, instead promoting adult stem cells as being superior.
President Obama has never kept his contempt for the war in Iraq secret. During his election campaign, the 47-year-old Democrat leader promised to bring back his forces from Iraq as soon as possible. “Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end,” Obama declared while he was visiting the troops in Iraq earlier this month.
His stance towards Afghanistan – dubbed the “graveyard of empires” by historians and military analysts – is somewhat stern and aggressive. He pledged to dispatch around 30,000 more troops to the central Asian republic in addition to the already 35,000 troops deployed. Seeking an additional $83.4 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, military analysts assess that both wars have cost the taxpayer nearly $1 trillion since September 2001. Other proposals include an additional $3.6 billion for Afghanistan’s forces and $400 million to help fund counterinsurgency efforts in Pakistan.
US President Barack Obama has continued Bush’s controversial cross border raids policy that has seen the killings of hundreds of innocent civilians in the tribal regions of Pakistan that border Afghanistan. Reluctant to acknowledge the fact that such attacks arouse hatred towards the American forces and are detrimental to winning the hearts and minds of the people, Obama has authorized further raids and hot pursuits into Pakistan, which is otherwise an ally in the US coalition on terror.
+ The bulk of the support comes from the military generals, NATO allies, including the UK, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who accuses Pakistan of being complacent with the Taliban. “In Afghanistan, the number of troops, if you combine NATO, American and Afghan troops, is 200,000 forces versus 600,000 in Iraq,” Karin von Hippel, an expert on Afghan affairs said. “Those numbers are so low that an extra 30,000 isn’t going to get you to where you need to be. It’s more of a stop-gap measure.” However, she is of the opinion that “something is better than nothing.”
– Anti-war activists, economists, and the majority of people in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan are against the deployment of further troops in the region, let alone the whole military invasion and occupation. “There’s clearly a consensus that things are heading in the wrong direction,” Mr. Bacevich, an international relations professor at Boston University exclaimed. According to the American academic, beefing up the troop presence alone cannot change the ground situation in Afghanistan and in the tribal regions of Pakistan. “My understanding of the larger objective of the allied enterprise in Afghanistan is to bring into existence something that looks like a modern cohesive Afghan state. Well, it could be that that’s an unrealistic objective. It could be that sending 30,000 more troops is throwing money and lives down a rat hole,” he wrote in his book titled “The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism.”
While some people remain skeptical about the new American president the same way they were before his election, many people solidly rally behind Obama and have their hopes for a change attached with him.
For John Lumea, the New York based journalist, Obama’s mantra of change has just started and won’t stop until he finishes his job. “I’ve been following Obama extremely closely for more than two years — and every single time that everyone, including his own fiercest supporters, has said “no, no, no, you’ve got it all wrong, you can’t do it THAT way” — he has proven them wrong — every time,” the Huffington Post writer explained. He added: “That doesn’t mean one should be Pollyannaish about him. I do think that, based on his record, one underestimates this president at their peril.”
Regardless of the rhetoric, every single person would agree that US President Barack Obama has got the charisma and drive to deliver his promises and time to tackle the challenges facing the most powerful nation on earth. What remains to be seen is the way he carries out his moves and the results they will yield. Few will argue that the US is facing a do or die situation and every step taken by the man in the White House will have far reaching implications on the lives of millions nationwide plus the future of generations to come.