Thursday, May 21, 2009

Can President Obama delivers what he promises?

The president closed his first “hundred days” on an upsurge of optimism. His second “hundred days”, however, has gotten off to a shaky start. The rejection, by Congress, of the funds that would be needed to fulfill Obama’s promise to close the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, sends a disturbing signal around the world that there may be some gaps between what is promised and what will be delivered. Yes, as Congressman Jim Moran told the BBC, the administration failed to provide enough details about its plans to enable some members to assess whether its proposals for dealing with detainees following the closure of the camp were feasible. But what was more striking was that not only opposition Republicans but also Democrats embraced a “not-in-my-backyard” approach to the question. And the legislative defeat suffered by the president makes it that much harder to ask other countries to take back and incarcerate detainees in their own countries.

It also raises new questions about what progress the administration hopes to make in renewed diplomatic efforts with Iran and Russia, in reviving the Middle East peace process, and in starting a new treaty process to deal with climate change if Obama cannot bring around a Congress controlled by his own party to support his initiatives. The “cap and trade” debate on Capitol Hill is being closely watched in other countries to see how legislators are dealing with what will be the thorniest issue in any new climate change negotiation—how to balance the need to reduce emissions with the desire of developing countries, especially India and China—to “catch up” to the economic living standards that a century and a half of unregulated pollution bequeathed to the developed north and west.

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