Over the course of the last four years, ever since the 2004 Democratic National Convention speech where John Kerry was nominated, Barack Hussein Obama has earned himself respect and adoration from legions of people around the world. His meteoric rise to the apex of officialdom was completed when he won the election against John McCain for the President of the United States of America in November last year.


Now that Obama is into the third month of his presidency, it’s worth looking at what’s happened (or perhaps happening) to the ten thousand promises he’s made, in his first three months as the Executive-in-Chief. If we remember it right, this time last year he was in a cut throat battle against Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic Party’s Presidential nominee. From then on, promises have been made on various issues including the Iraq War, Economy, Energy, Global Terrorism, International Relations, Healthcare and Social Security, in no particular order. With his inheritance of ruins of the Bush’s years, it was never going to be easy, however capable he is, to keep all his words. He knows it’s not a hill but a mountain to climb and, for sure, all the promises could not be kept. Realistically speaking, it is important from our part to understand what his “reason” will be if he decides to drift away from any of those promises.


It is at this point we need to look at his performance in the last three months, not to judge him but to really understand his intentions, to make sure the way forward is with fairness, participation, and consensus. It is at the interest for all of us because, for all its problems, for all the battering it has taken, the United States remains the single most important country in the world.


It could be a different matter now because of the economy but Obama’s primary focus when he began his journey was the Iraq War. He talked of the need to end the Iraq war successfully as soon as possible and concentrate on demolishing the al-Qaida haven in Afghanistan.


First of all I think his decision to keep Robert Gates as the Defense Secretary shows pragmatism and maturity. Though he promised change all the way in his campaign, he accepts the fact that delinking some of the chains is never going to be easy or possible.


In February this year, he announced a 19-month timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. That announcement has further been strengthened when he made an unannounced trip to Iraq a few days ago on his return journey from his European tour. The date he’s put up for a complete end to their combat mission in Iraq is August 31, 2010.


Now that the exit strategy is in place on Iraq, it won’t be wrong to say he has acted on his pre-election promises rather radically, despite keeping Gates. He is doing it not for the sake of image and public approval but rather for really conscientizing on a broader base so that the issue would be resolved in the best possible way.


The biggest problem for Obama at the moment is the ECONOMY. His presidency will be judged on how he handles the economic crisis that now envelops the world and the US [Newsweek]. He’s got to rescue capitalism if he is to be remembered as one of the greatest presidents.


Since the demise of titans on Wall Street, the US economy has been facing a huge increase in unemployment and bankruptcy files. Major industries like finance and banking, automobile, print media, airlines and others have been going down. A recent report says that Obama had told General Motors to file for bankruptcy and that the federal government is not going to help the company any longer. Obama needs to reform government rules and regulations to give people around the world confidence in the American financial system, which also happens to be the centre of this integrated global economic system.


Obama came up with a bailout package of $778 billion with the help of Timothy Geithner, his Treasury Secretary. For those of you wondering who Geithner is, he is one of the original architects of the Bush financial bailouts.


On the size of the package, people like Paul Krugman say it’s too less an amount to straighten the economy. While others, mostly conservatives, say the bailout package is too big and unnecessary. Obama and his economic advisers however pledged that this stimulus package will save millions of jobs and bring the country back from the brink of economic catastrophe. Though the result of the stimulus package hasn’t started showing, its allocation has attracted thunderous criticisms. There was (still is) a new wave of populist anger because of the huge bonuses AIG paid out to its top executives from the bailout money it received. Obama has reacted strongly on this AIG’s irresponsibility saying, “I’m angry.”


Despite all the actions and reactions in his last three months, nobody, including Obama and economists, seems to know where the economy is headed, or how much the bailout package has has helped the economy recover. We’ll have to wait on this one. It’s apparent here that Obama seems not to be taking too many chances though.


Some might not agree but on international relations and diplomacy, Obama has been able to walk his talk. Let us recollect on his first televised interview since becoming the president, he spoke to Muslim world with grace and objectivity. He offered a “new beginning” with Iran. Whether Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Ayatollah Khamenei has responded to it is a different story altogether, but what’s striking is Obama’s proclivity in engaging Iran without any “preconditions”, the exact action he promised he’d take given a chance. Not only this, a few days ago he decided to lift ban on visits to Cuba by Americans citizens of Cuban origins. Given the relations US has had with Cuba in the past, this step was never going to be an easy one. But if there was one man who had the capability to transform the way America deals with the world, it was Barack Obama and he definitely is taking the strides.


With Russia too, it looks like a total shift from that of Bush’ is taking place. Obama met with Medvedev on April 2 in London following the G20 summit. It is now reported Obama is going to Moscow in July to change a lot of things.


These are symbolic gestures of a different kind, ones that tells us how differently he wants to drive his country in international politics from that of his predecessor, one that can bring peace and security for all citizens. It’s turning out, as expected, that Obama’s strongest competency is international diplomacy and engagement.


Other than these three issues of Iraq, economy and international diplomacy, Obama is steadfastly refusing to jettison health care, energy and education reforms from his budget and overall agenda. Because of the economic troubles, these important issues have taken a backseat but he is making sure that they are not ignored.


In three months, it would be fair on my part to say that Obama has already proven himself a remarkably capable and a genuine leader. He might have overlooked certain things on the bailout package on financial institutions but he has learned some good hard lessons. The world is looking forward to Barack Obama, and his policies, even more hopefully to bring rationality back again in world affairs- not the one run by oil, nuclear bombs, financial frauds, fossil burning but by human intelligence and human values. We now look forward to what’s coming from Obama in the next four years. Or can he make it EIGHT?


Premjit Laikhuram

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