Monday, 19 January 2009

Obama Embarks on Toughest Job  


Amidst all the (quite understandable) hope surrounding the imminent inauguration of Barrack Obama there has to be a certain amount of nervousness amongst even his most ardent supporters.

George W. Bush's reign may have left America's global image in tatters, but it is the consequences of his administration's domestic policies that may prove to give Obama his greatest challenge. The US budget deficit will hit $482 billion in the 2009 budget, and this does not even take into account ten billion dollars worth of additional funding for the war in Iraq. As the US plummets further into recession, Obama now faces the kind of economic challenges not faced since Franklin D. Roosevelt and The Great Depression of the 1930s.

It is hoped by many that the 'Obama Effect' will result in such a surge of hope, that the US economy will ride the recession on the crest of a wave of positivism. However, the US economy is, like most capitalist economies (and given its embrace of capitalism more than most) suffering from decades of mismanagement. Successive US administrations have failed to implement legislation to control the greed of the big US banks. Bush may have, through record defence spending and ludicrous tax cuts being largely responsible for the budget deficit and at least partly responsible for the overall economic downturn. But successive administrations (at least starting from Reagan) have failed to control Wall Street. Indeed, Wall Street through various lobbying groups has instead had far too much control over The White House.

Obama now, benefiting from his immense popularity and an ability to build strong relationships with both Houses, could well be able to make many of the policy changes required to get a hand on the shoulder of Wall Street. However, the American people are too fearful of the left to allow him to ever shackle Wall Street entirely. As such it is likely that Wall Street will be able to escape the wrath of the American people relatively unscathed, as the economic downturn spreads to other sectors of the economy, taking with it small businesses.

With regards to foreign policy, one only needs look at the Israeli attack on Gaza to see that the Middle East will again be a huge problem for the new President. Bush's administration shocked the rest of the UN by preventing the Security Council from issuing a statement demanding an immediate ceasefire from both and Israel (a statement the US had previously had a large role in creating). This decision, along with Bush's pointed refusal to criticise Israel and to instead lay the blame solely at Hamas' door has managed to isolate America and Bush's administration even further from the rest of the world.

Israel has faced a constant barrage of rockets from Gaza and it has continuously warned Hamas that it would retaliate in force. However, the massive and disproportionate use of force should be criticised by an administration and a President that see themselves as the moral compass for the rest of the world. The irony of the Bush administration demonising Russia for attacking Georgia, and then refusing to even criticise Israel has not been ignored by European governments, much less by Middle Eastern states.

Obama now faces that most difficult of tasks - how to manage to convince two states who only know hatred for each other to seek peace rather than revenge and reason over religious fundamentalism. Bill Clinton failed, George W. Bush took a side to the detriment of understanding and now Obama has been given this most poisoned of chalices. It is difficult to see how a man, even one as accomplished a statement as Obama is, can manage to restore America's image enough to bring about any kind of peace talks.

Finally, Obama takes on a country that is as divided now as it has ever been. Despite his huge popularity (my favourite bit of merchandise is the Obama condom), he is hated by a great deal of Americans. There are many Southern states that will never vote for a Democratic President, never mind a black one. There has been a spate of gun sales following Obama's victory in Southern states such as Bush's home state of Texas. This has not been I should add (or at least not publicly so) because of the new President's ethnicity or liberal upbringing, but more because they fear he will take away their freedom to purchase fire arms. This demonstrates the pervasive fear of liberalism in these states, a fear that Obama will struggle to deal with and to unite his country in the face of some of the biggest challenges faced this century.

We live in an exciting time, with a new and extremely exciting President. I am sure we in Europe all hope that Obama can be all we have hoped for in a US President for so long. However, it is in that hope that fear is born, a fear that he cannot meet expectations that are surely too much for one man, even one as impressive as Barack Obama