What Obama's First 100 Days Show Us
With less than a week to go in President Obama's first 100 days, pundits of all shape and bent are readying their report cards on how the new commander in chief is doing.
Stimulus money will be doled out over two years and Obama will take credit for creating and saving jobs. There are already some signs the economy is improving, though not because of the stimulus. How the economy does will ultimately define Obama's presidency.
Combat troops in
Afghanistan could prove more thorny with an extended stay and little help from European nations. Considering the country is largely ungovernable and tribal, the U.S. mission could get bogged down and an exit plan less certain and Obama will suffer for it.
On the financial rescues, it's possible more bailout money won't be needed from Congress. Still, much of it is messy, and there already are reports of alleged fraud and abuse in how bailout money has been used. That will fan public outrage for awhile yet.
A health care bill on his desk later this year? There's a good chance, and Obama could take credit for something that has been bottled up for decades. He'll have the opportunity to show some good faith with Republicans in negotiating the bill, but Democrats will use budget tools to circumvent a Senate filibuster if Republicans stand united in opposition.
Obama scores well on meetings with foreign leaders in Europe, Canada and Latin America in his few trips to date. While there is criticism in some circles for his meeting and smiling photo-ops with foes of the U.S., he has been well received overseas, even eagerly welcomed in foreign capitals, and he has carried and delivered a positive and engaged image and message. His meeting with the G-20, for instance, was successful, even if not entirely productive on policy. He has also raised the profile of nuclear proliferation, an issue largely ignored by the Bush administration except in isolated cases such as Iran and North Korea. Obama and the Russians have agreed to restart talks to reduce their nuclear arsenals and he trying to create a united global front against countries seeking the materials needed for nuclear weapons.
There are potential pitfalls coming up, though. Age-old tensions in the Middle East, for instance, are not cured in a few months. Iran and North Korea won't drop differences with the West anytime soon. Russia will remain skeptical and standoffish about the U.S., despite entreaties by Obama. China will focus on its own economic rise for years yet, not on partnering in difficult international peace initiatives. The big question is what will Obama do if his outreach isn't reciprocated. At what point, does he try something else?