Monday, January 4, 2010
Crises to greet Obama return to Washington
US President Barack Obama Monday swaps his Hawaiian vacation hideaway for Washington, with resurgent fears of airborne terror and Iran's nuclear defiance darkening his already daunting agenda.
Challenges facing the White House in 2009 -- including the worst economic meltdown in 70 years -- look if anything likely to be trumped by the building crises threatening to rage through 2010.
Hyper-partisan politics will get even more nasty, with Republicans targeting gains in mid-term elections in November -- which normally wound first-term presidents -- and Democrats defending their grip on Congress at all costs.
The thwarted Christmas Day attack on a US airliner reintroduced the terrifying and polarizing spectre of terrorism into American life, just as a wary normality was easing memories of the September 11 attacks in 2001.
Criticism of Obama's handling of the attack is likely to complicate his task of enacting an ambitious domestic program. He will attempt to address what he says are "systemic" US failures over the episode by meeting spy chiefs Tuesday.
Obama's plan to close the Guantanamo Bay camp, already set to miss a one-year deadline, looks in deep peril: nearly half of the remaining 198 detainees are from Yemen, where the Christmas Day attack was planned.
Yemen, with its building Al-Qaeda presence is a widening front for US forces in the global anti-terror struggle, along with Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Iran, beset by its own political turmoil, is meanwhile escalating the showdown over its nuclear program, with Washington seeking tougher sanctions.
Tehran last year spurned Obama's engagement push -- leading the president's foes to brand him as naive.
Recent deaths of seven CIA employees in Afghanistan meanwhile underscored the political risks and deep human cost of the president's 30,000 strong troop surge into Afghanistan.
Fresh global challenges come as Obama faces 10 percent unemployment, which is dampening hopes for economic recovery and his own political prospects.
Republicans are painting Obama as a big spending, big government liberal, and will skewer him with huge joblessness and a budget deficit of over a trillion dollars in 2010.
"The country is in deep, deep trouble," Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty -- a possible Republican 2012 presidential candidate told Fox News last week.
"People are going to hold office holders and candidates to account."
Amid the gloom, Obama must try to rekindle the theme of change and hope which powered his 2008 election win.
"While 2009 was difficult for many Americans, we must also look back ... with the knowledge that brighter days are ahead of us," he said in his New Year message.
One political triumph -- health care reform -- a task that has confounded generations of Democratic presidents, may be in reach.
A final bill could emerge from Congress within weeks, setting up a historic signing ceremony to boost the president early in 2010.
After nearly a year in power, Obama is grayer, drained by Washington's acrimony and no longer an untested source of hope for millions, but a commander-in-chief who agonized, then escalated the Afghan war.
His once soaring job approval ratings are now around the critical 50 percent threshold though he will be comforted, that unlike many lawmakers, he does not face voters for three more years.
Judged by massive expectations which greeted his election, Obama's first year looks unimpressive, but history may give him more credit.
Despite the economic blight, Obama argues that he stopped a traumatized economy slipping into depression -- and if the US economy shows its historic resilience, he may reap a political benefit.
However, the long fight over health care has delayed much of his domestic agenda and Wall Street is battling to water down a regulatory reform drive.
Obama's hopes of passing a cap-and-trade bill to fight global warming also look increasingly doubtful and dreams of his devotees that he could cleanse Washington's partisan swamp have proven fanciful.
Abroad, the administration's bid to confront Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now looks clumsy, and the Middle East peace process is stalled.
In Iraq, however things look better: the White House hopes to get US troop numbers down to 50,000 by August.
The administration also hopes to conclude a landmark nuclear deal with Russia in early 2010 and will also seek to build on a tortuous start in engaging China and hopes to ease the North Korea nuclear crisis.
Posted by MK at 1:01 AM