It has been the recent custom in American politics to micro-analyse the achievements of the first 100 days of a new Presidency; and new Presidents, as a gesture of what is to come, push through a series of legislation that they hope would symbolize their Presidency and fulfil some of their campaign pledges. It doesn’t always work that way. 

Lyndon B Johnson rushed in the Civil Rights Bill, part of his Great Society agenda, though his legacy was undoubtedly the Vietnam War. He started well but ended a crock.

Ronald Reagan introduced a series of small government initiatives, thereby formulating Reaganomics, a policy that Conservatives laud and applaud to this very day.

JFK famously refused to be drawn on the “custom.” Speaking in his inaugural address, he told his fellow Americans bluntly his policies could not be fulfilled over his Administration’s lifetime, let alone the first 1000 days. He was right, when you consider with hindsight his positions on Cuba, nuclear weapons, Vietnam and the old Soviet Union.

And now that President Barack Obama will reach that milestone this week, everyone will rush to measure judgement by that same yardstick. But is America’s charasmatic Commander-In-Chief really in charge?

On the domestic front, he doesn’t appear to be so. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker in the House of Representatives, is behaving like a European Prime Minister.  She possesses a ruthlessness and tenacity that he lacks. She’s an old-fashioned ideologue. The President’s stimulus budget has been hijacked by her pet projects, and that of other leading Democrats that have thirsted for their day for 8 years.  Pelosi is so left that there’s nothing right. The pork is laden with ineffectual and unconvincing rhetoric, like her argument that more funding for birth control will help the ailing economy. I don’t know how the mother of five managed to come to that conclusion.

While Obama appears relaxed in taking questions from the Press Corps about the White House gym, the White House basketball court and the White House Dog, Pelosi gladly packaged the Bill, and was most definitely unpartisan while doing so. The Democratic steam train is charging ahead and it has no time to accommodate the sore-losing and bitter whimpering Republicans. Now that the Democrats are in control of Washington, they are hell-bent in stripping away at the ad hominem legacy of the Bush era. I’m not a great fan of fiscal stimuli of economic-boggling proportions. But I won’t condemn it in its entirety, because some of the stimulus is going to areas that need a boost like more jobs, education and energy efficiency. Tax breaks for many will be welcomed also. If it works, Americans will be paying the debt for generations. If it doesn’t, then America will be staring into a literal abyss.

Digging a greater hole to get you out of an already considerable one doesn’t make financial common sense. Especially when Pelosi and other Democrats have conceded that another stimulus may be necessary as the current one to the tune of around $800 billion may not be sufficient after all.  

Obama also took the major decision in ordering the publishing of classified CIA documents in relation to America’s interrogation, (or torture depending on which side you’re on), of captured enemy combatants including the usage of waterboarding, sleep deprivation, standing up forcefully for up to 40 hours, forced nakedness and the exploitation of phobias. Since this information has been made public, the cry from the Left has called for the blood-letting of infamous Bush Administration officials, including former Vice-President Dick Cheney and former Secretary of State Condi Rice who authorized the use of such methods.

If Obama decides to follow this route, which I doubt, the Left would be in raptures. But it would set a very dangerous and complex precedent. Of course, some would like to hold Bush and others to account for the laundry lists of wrongs that led to Iraq and Gitmo. That would prevent any future administration from acting with impunity. But isn’t that same impunity of action that is required when fighting a war of this nature? How does one define torture? Does it have a universal meaning? Does that meaning vary in accordance to your moral compass or geographical setting?

In Britain, we don’t have the death penalty as they do in some states in America because our lawmakers consider that inhumane and uncivilized. Again, the death penalty used in Iran, China and Saudi Arabia may be considered barbaric and extreme for the US judicial system who believe that their version is a deterrent to murder, while others could produce statistics contrary to that claim. Also, we all have policing in our respective countries, but there is no universal form of policing.

In America, the cops carry guns. Here, it’s the truncheon. In Europe, it’s the fireman’s water-hose. In other places, it’s tear gas. So is the simulating of drowning really torture? What about denying a prisoner conjugal visits? Isn’t that torture too? Could it be said that President Truman, if he were alive, could be put on trial for genocide for ordering the atomic bomb upon Nagasaki and Hiroshima? What of Henry Kissinger? He’s still alive, isn’t he? Bring him to task over the bombing of Cambodia, and the coups he so brilliantly allegedly executed while he was Secretary of Defense.

One may argue that the extreme action of using atomic weapons was needed to rid the world of a totalitarian evil. The end justified the means. It doesn’t equate it. The present extreme evil facing the Western hemisphere is the scourge of global terrorism. Former Bush acolytes will argue that their methods saved lives and stopped terrorist plots. But Obama seems to have gone half-way house on this matter. Was it naïve to reveal classified papers, lean towards a prosecution and then sweep it under the carpet again like it never happened in the first place? He knows this issue is a potential can of worms and could polarize the country like never before.

The Right say such interrogations were a necessity to the security of the nation. The Left say torture should not permissible under any circumstances. America is divided as hell. The Tea Party Tax Protests and the coverage of it by the media was a vivid illustration of this division. One CNN reporter a Susan Roesgen, who was supposed to be reporting neutrally on the event in Chicago, suddenly turned into a whirlwind before her live camera and called the demonstrations “not fit for family viewing” (when you could see families together in her report) and “anti-CNN” (when there was no evidence of any hostility to her news network). When a reporter of a supposedly free nation loses her professionalism and espouses her views (and prejudices) so openly, then you know that country is in trouble.   

When Obama visited Europe earlier this month, he couldn’t wait to tell all the Bush haters and those that doubted America’s promise that things would be different from now on. Guantanamo Bay will be closed. A timetable on the withdrawal from Iraqi soil was announced. America would address climate change and seek for greener resources. She would do away with the pre-emptive unilateral mindset of the past. America’s military would be directed to the Kush, where the Taliban were becoming resurgent, and to Pakistan where Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are on mission creep to take over and finally acquire a nuclear weapon.

But he wanted European troops to help out in Afghanistan. Despite the fanfare he received, he didn’t take home anything more than what his predecessor would have succeeded in doing so before him, except for the media drooling over him and his glamorous wife. Europeans are sick to death of American expeditions and have no heart for yet another fight. Going back to nuclear weapons, Obama spoke of a world without them. Idealist perhaps, noble definitely, but in reality, that is never going to happen. Possibly having detected a more conciliatory tone from D.C, North Korea is behaving like a petulant child.

Kim Jung-Il feels there is more to play for if he plays hard to get, unlike Obama who has virtually offered a hand to Venezuela, Cuba and Iran and the other members of those exclusive clubs – the Axis of Evil and the Outposts of Tyranny. On the international scene, it is they who hold the cards. America is more likely to respond to their behaviour now as opposed to the other way round. “We will deal with you in response on how you engage with us,” Obama told them. “Our hand is unclenched for you to shake.”

Russia will shake hands once America’s Son of Star Wars program is dismantled. Cuba will shake hands because it likes the change in tone. North Korea will shake hands once her dictator gets a good deal out of the Obama Administration. Iran will shake hands just to bide time. Whatever anyone thinks, Iran wants to go nuclear, and it will if it is not stopped militarily. She now has a greater influence on the Middle East than America. The Shia Conglomerate is getting stronger and more organized. War and peace is at Persia’s bidding. They were great long before America existed, and the Mullahs desire to be great again.

What better way to show that greatness if you are a nuclear power at the table calling the shots. Nobody would dare invade you. They’d have to listen and respect you, even if they don’t agree with you.

Ahmedinijad and the Mullahs are waiting for the reappearance of the 12th Imam to bring about Apocalypse Now. It will happen for sure. It’s just a case of who’ll start it: America or Iran. Or Israel. Obama message to the Muslim world that America has changed will appease no one in the Middle East. They want him to strike a different tone and attitude with Israel. They want a satisfactory conclusion for their long suffering Palestinian brethren. But they are not holding the breath. And these are some of the things that Obama will have to deal with for the duration of his Presidency. His country and the world are as divided as ever, perhaps more so than ever. And as Kennedy said all those years ago in the winter of 1961, policy could never be actualized in 4 or 8 years, never mind 100 days.  (c) Ali Kinteh

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