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The Monitor's View

Obama toughens up

In one month, Obama toughened up on health care, arms control, Israeli settlements, and President Karzai in Afghanistan. This stiffer resolve shows a maturing presidency. But Obama must still balance deliberation with decisiveness.

By the Monitor's Editorial Board / March 29, 2010

President Obama is packing on political muscle, with the latest example being his surprise trip to Afghanistan. There, he delivered a pointed message to Afghan President Hamid Karzai to rein in corruption and improve on good governance.

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It was not long ago that Mr. Obama was seen as weak, both at home and abroad. He was criticized for handing healthcare over to Congress and not leading. He was chastised for caving in to Russia on a missile defense shield, for reaching out to Iran with kid gloves, for letting Israel roll over him with settlements, for wimping out on greenhouse gases.

The criticisms have come from all sides, depending on the issue. And there have been exceptions to this weakness complaint, most notably his troop surge in Afghanistan. But in the last few weeks, he has noticeably stiffened his backbone.

IN PICTURES: Inside President Obama's White House

No matter what one thinks about healthcare reform, the president stood firm and used his powers of persuasion – and his office – to pass the most significant change to medical care for Americans in decades. After that, an emboldened Obama announced 15 recess appointments to fill openings in his administration, bypassing the Senate and further angering Republicans. He justified it on grounds of GOP obstruction.

In foreign affairs, Obama told his Russian counterpart he was ready to walk away from a nuclear arms reduction treaty rather than give in to Moscow’s demands for concessions. That tough stance saved the START treaty, and the president was able to announce a nuclear weapons deal March 26.

In recent weeks, the president has shown resolve over Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and he’s working on a new round of international sanctions to dissuade Iran from developing a nuclear bomb.

The toughness shows Obama maturing in his presidency, balancing deliberation with decisiveness. But it doesn’t necessarily guarantee success.