It took three months for John F. Kennedy’s honeymoon in 1961 to be rudely interrupted by the Bay of Pigs crisis. Now, just three weeks after his inauguration, reality is hitting Barack Obama in the face.
Take economic policy. Obama sought to pass his $800 billion stimulus with the support of the opposition Republicans. But no Republican voted for it last week in the House of Representatives; only three did in the Senate. Little surprise, given the Bill is chock-full of social initiatives that only the far Left favours, along with trade protectionism that could worsen the financial crisis.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Obama confused commentators by alternately appearing for and against this protectionism. A Rasmussen poll earlier this month shows 43% Americans opposing the stimulus, with 37% supporting it. Even the powerful Left-wing blog Daily Kos has been grumbling.
The same confusion has permeated Obama’s internal administration. Four of his nominees have fallen prey to revelations of past scandals. His “team of rivals”—experts with differing opinions—is also faltering. Former Fed chairman Paul Volcker has complained that he’s not included in policymaking. Judd Gregg, a Republican picked as commerce secretary to showcase bipartisanship, parted ways last week due to “irresolvable conflicts”.
If this isn’t the “change” Obama promised, consider national security. Although praised for closing Guantanamo Bay, Obama hasn’t reversed his predecessor’s policies beyond this symbolic step. Last week, the administration continued a Bush legal policy on the secret detention and interrogation of terrorists. Perhaps Obama has come to realize that tackling terrorism isn’t child’s play.
This lesson is all too evident from Pakistan. The release of A.Q. Khan and overtures to the Taliban in Swat valley are testing the US, which can either tread lightly at the risk of appeasing insurgents, or harshly at the risk of causing irreversible damage. Already, the Left is doubting Obama’s Afghan adventurism, as he authorizes a troop increase this week.
Serious decisions need to be made, and the world wants to know how Obama will make them. The vague promises that comprised great campaign rhetoric are now proving to be duplicitous policy. In the face of stark reality, one-sided idealism is giving way to pragmatism that tries to politically appease all sides. Facing an unprecedented crisis, the world demands not such politicking, but statesmanship.
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