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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.

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Getting the balance right is awfully hard. Too much deliberation can turn a president into a manager, like Jimmy Carter. Too much bold and decisive can lead to erroneous conclusions such as President George W. Bush’s “mission accomplished” in the Iraq war.

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At home, the White House has on its agenda the regulation of the financial industry, changes to the No Child Left Behind Act, campaign-finance changes, and job creation. The latter must be the president’s No. 1 domestic priority.

Obama’s tough stand on healthcare could strengthen his hand, but he should not stop reaching out to Republicans, even if they profess, as Sen. John McCain did, that “there will be no cooperation for the rest of the year.”

Overarching this agenda, though, must be the job of getting the nation’s finances in order. For this, the president will need to exercise toughness and leadership, because neither side will likely be interested in making the sacrifices required to tame the deficit.

Abroad, Obama’s newly shown resolve may help move the United States and Russia further along the path to a “reset” in relations. His combination of flexibility on the anti-Iranian missile shield but stiffness on the arms treaty shows sensitivity to Russian insecurities and also firmness in the face of an assertive Russia.

Likewise, Obama will have to maintain evenhandedness in the Middle East, which includes a necessary firmness with Israel. It’s hard to see how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition, with its hard-right elements, will reach a peace deal with the Palestinians without considerable pressure from Washington.

Such pressure can also reinforce America as an “honest broker” in the peace process – with positive ripple effects in the region.

March has turned out to be a surprising month for Obama, the professor president. He’s gained needed political clout. Will he use it wisely?

IN PICTURES: Inside President Obama's White House