John Hughes

Obama's first year in office

With Nobel in hand, Obama needs to walk the talk

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It is tradition for pundits to produce a report card on a new president's first 100 days.

Only a few weeks into his presidency, President Obama attended one of those Washington dinners where the president is expected to make amusing, ideally self-deprecatory, remarks.

He is very good at this, and brought the house down when he said he would spend his second 100 days setting up a foundation to celebrate the achievements of his first 100 days.

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Well, not withstanding the controversial Nobel Prize award, perhaps the president should wait for his second year in office to start tallying up the achievements of his first year.

He promised change if he were to become president, but few could have imagined the breathless pace he would set, starting with his first-day promise to close the Guantánamo Bay prison by year's end.

Unfortunately the president has discovered that bringing change to the ship of state is as cumbersome and slow as turning a giant ocean liner or oil tanker around.

Thus, although he seems to be everywhere, popping up daily on television – on five different networks in separate interviews in one day recently – his elegant phraseology and soaring words of hope leave behind a formidable list of problems to be solved.

At home, the economy is showing signs of upturn, but the jobless rate still teeters around 10 percent when the White House predicted it would flatten out at 7 percent. The housing market is awaiting a jump-start.

The president will probably get some health reform legislation passed this year, but without major features he had wanted, and with little Republican support to fulfill his promise of a bipartisan honeymoon.

Meanwhile we have not heard a whisper about the looming crisis with Social Security, or made much of a dent in global warming or progress on energy conservation.

When the president was tweeted in the presidential election campaign about his ability to simultaneously handle complex domestic and foreign affairs, he assured his critics of his multitasking prowess.

Guantánamo is unlikely to be shed of its prisoners by year's end and there is a long list of unfinished business on the foreign-affairs front.

On the war in Afghanistan, which he has declared to be one of "necessity," he faces an unenviable choice.

He can honor the plea for more troops from the new commander he has installed to win the war and who says that without the troops the war will be lost. That would infuriate the left wing of the Democratic Party and unnerve Americans uneasy about a prolonged war.

Or he can turn down Gen. Stanley McCrystal and run the risk of being the president who "lost Afghanistan" and possibly Pakistan.

On the most critical problem in the Middle East – securing a permanent peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians – there is no progress to report between an obdurate prime minister in Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, and a factionalized Palestinian populace.

On Iran, it is not clear whether talks just begun with its interlocutors are a forerunner to a change of heart in Tehran – which many suspect is unlikely – or merely postponement of a showdown while Iran speeds its clandestine development of nuclear weaponry.

Mr. Obama has warned against any Iranian foot-dragging. But punitive measures are few: tougher economic sanctions, maybe with Russian support, but probably not from China, and certainly not before the end of the year.

On North Korea, the regime of Kim Jong Il has successfully developed nuclear weapons and tested its rocketry without being given pause by major power warnings or blandishments.

North Korea may be ready once again to talk but, as with Iran, it has routinely lied while simultaneously developing nuclear weapons capability and engaging in protracted discussions.

It's enough to make the president of Brazil ponder whether he can count on a US presidential visit to Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, writes a biweekly column for the Monitor weekly print edition.

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