Wednesday, January 21, 2009

US Ushers in New Era

Sworn in as the 44th President of the US, Barack Hussein Obama became the first African-American to occupy the White House on January 20, 2009, fulfilling Martin Luther King’s dream sooner than anyone had imagined. The 47-year-old Obama’s rise from a small-time community worker to the most powerful man in the world marks a huge political transformation in a country with a racist past.
The event marked the end of an eight-year chapter of George W. Bush’s presidency—a record blighted by unfinished wars, record deficits and an economy in recession not seen since the 1930s Great Depression. But it also opened a chapter of change, a mantra often repeated by Obama during the course of his presidential campaign. Obama used his inauguration address to call on Americans to embrace a new era of responsible behaviour. He asked the nation to reject the “culture of anything goes.” He promised the world a new America that listens to all voices. But he vowed to spare nothing to keep America safe, addressing terrorist foes directly.
The 65-year-old Joe Biden, a longtime Senator and veteran foreign policy expert, who is considered a close friend of India, has been sworn in as the 47th Vice-President. He had been a strong critic of Bush Administration’s foreign policies. He supported the Iraq invasion but flayed the handling of the post-war situation.
Sign of Deliverance
Obama assumed power over a country longing for change after Bush’s two terms in the White House. He arrives at the presidency after a transition that betrayed little if any perspiration and no hint of nervousness. Throughout the 77 days since his election, he has been a font of cool confidence, never too hot, never too cold, seemingly undaunted by the magnitude of troubles awaiting him and unbothered by the few setbacks that have tripped him up.
The new US President remains hard to read or label—centrist in his appointments and bipartisan in his style, yet also pushing the broadest expansion of Government in generations. What the country has seen of Obama’s leadership style so far evokes the discipline of Bush and the curiosity of Bill Clinton. Obama is not shy about making decisions and making them expeditiously.
Obama has set out ideas for governance even before taking office, but he has also adapted the details as conditions changed. He is as much symbol as substance, an iron for the young and a sign of deliverance for an older generation that never believed a man with his skin colour would ascend those steps to vow to preserve, protect and defend a Constitution that originally counted a black man as three-fifths of a person.
Major Challenges
One of the first major challenges to confront President Obama would be the tottering US economy and he has already outlined it as his main priority areas. As most Americans expect, Obama is bound to concentrate on how to turn the US economy around as his first priority. It is indeed a challenging task. He has to find a way to give a new direction to his country’s economy, faced with the kind of crisis it has never seen since the last seven decades. Going in for more spending by the Government may be one of the measures he may take. A bit of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal may become necessary, but he has to be really innovative to pull his country out of the crisis. The most pressing investment of Obama is the giant economic recovery plan, a $ 825 billion effort to rescue America’s struggling economy.
But there are many others he wants or needs to make early in term: spending capital in Congress trying to overall healthcare; spending valuable diplomacy to diffuse the bloody Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Gaza Strip, spending military resources to beat back a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan. It all depends on how he views the situation in South Asia.
As far as relations are concerned, New Delhi will be watching with curiosity not only his moves on job outsourcing, which can adversely affect India’s BPO companies, but also how the Obama Administration looks at the US ties with India. The Bush Administration took the Indo-US relations to a new high with the signing of the civil nuclear agreement. Obama has indicated that the ties between the the two countries will be strengthened further, but how he keeps his word remains to be seen.

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