Obama’s rocky start

“LESS than two weeks into his administration, President Barack Obama is being portrayed by opponents as a new Jimmy Carter – weak at home and naive abroad – in an attempt to dim his post-election glow and ensure that he serves only one term.”

“The charge has stung because it was made privately by Hillary Clinton supporters during a hard-fought primary campaign and plays to fears about Obama’s inexperience,” says Sarah Baxter, the Washington journalist for the writing the Times of London.

Already President Obama has managed to provoke the Republicans into a fighting mood. Not a single Republican was swayed by Obama’s “We are the change we have been waiting for” rhetoric or voted for his $819 billion stimulus package in the House of Representatives.

The bill was a 40-year Democratic wish list laden with egregious spending on Democratic pet projects, social engineering and tribute paid to labor and teacher’s unions. With items such as $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts, $400 million for global warming research, $650 million for digital TV conversion coupons and $2 billion for child-care subsidies (also known as baby-sitting), it was difficult to find anything that had to do with boosting the economy.

Included in the Democratic “stimulus” package is the “Buy American” provision that has alarmed our international trading partners. Leading business interests and economists warn that such protectionist measures would trigger trade wars that would only exacerbate the slump in trade volumes and economic growth world-wide.

On his second day in office, Obama issued executive orders requiring the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba be closed within a year. He has no idea what to do with the prisoners. America’s European allies, including Britain, have shown little interest in helping to close Guantanamo Bay by taking detainees, nor in stumping up the money and troops for a surge in Afghanistan. At home there has been an outbreak of nimbyism (“Not in My Backyard”) over the housing of Guantanamo detainees at US mainland prisons.

President Obama’s first television interview was with al-Arabiya, an Arab network. The interview was a repudiation of the freedom agenda formulated by President Bush. The basic premise was “we just want to get back to schmoozing the feted Arab dictatorships and the mullahs in Tehran all over again,” said Mark Steyn. If you’re a moderate Arab in Cairo or Amman who would like to live in a free society, forget about it. The Bush freedom agenda is over. The Jimmy Carter era is reborn.

Obama extended a hand of peace to Iran. The President offered dialogue with Tehran and promised a new American readiness to listen to those who oppose it in the Middle East. “It is important for us to be willing to talk to Iran, to express very clearly where our differences are but where there are potential avenues for progress," he said. Obama’s offer of talks with Iran prompted a demand from Ahmadinejad that America apologize for its “crimes” against Iran, including American support for a 1953 coup and the backing of Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war.

Michael Rubin, an expert on Iran at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington, said Obama’s approach to Iran was similar to that of Jimmy Carter, who wrote a personal letter to Ayatollah Kho-meini after a term of office marred by the storming of the US embassy in Tehran and a failed attempt to rescue 52 diplomatic staff held hostage.

“It is a little bit naive. The problem hasn’t been a lack of dialogue or the policies of George W Bush. It’s not all about us,” said Rubin.

The president’s foreign policy offensive also got off to an uncertain start. Critics claim there are too many czars and special envoys at the White House and State Department, who will end up fighting rather than problem solving. George Mitchell’s first foray into the Middle East as special envoy last week was greeted by the Israeli bombing of tunnels on the Egypt-Gaza border.

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