As we mark the first 100 days of his presidency, it is staggering to consider the enormous challenges President Obama inherited from his predecessor, arguably the worst President ever. Can the devastation wrought by an eight-year nightmare be sorted out in 100 Days? Of course it can’t. That’s why Obama himself talked about needing to measure his accomplishments not by the first 100 days, but by the first 1,000.
Yet as we near this iconic marker — whether one is disappointed by some key appointments (read on), the size of the recovery bill, escalation in Afghanistan, the bank bailout plan or other issues — this President must be given credit for hitting the ground running and confronting challenges head on. Brutal and fundamental fights still lie ahead — on energy, healthcare, the budget, to name a few.
Obama understood the power — both symbolic and real — of swift, smart action, even within the first 100 hours of his inauguration. He pledged to close Guantanamo and the CIA black sites. He quickly passed a strong recovery bill — even if it was smaller than it should have been; that bill and his proposed budget begin to lay out a new blueprint for economic recovery and reconstruction, and a break with ill-conceived dogma about deficit reduction that has defined and limited economic policy for thirty years. He repealed the global gag order, took steps to restore science to its proper place with regard to stem cell research and addressing climate change, and has embarked on a substantive transformation to a clean energy economy.
On diplomacy, Obama has shown a willingness to engage with countries that may have interests and ideas that diverge from those of the US. He’s expressed support for a more central US role in global alliances, including a firm endorsement of the UN, and on recent trips to Europe and Latin America he’s set a new tone of respect and listening. He’s declared his commitment to nuclear abolition and, in doing so, has opened the door to a renewed and wiser nuclear non-proliferation framework. He has begun to reset the relationship with Russia, reexamining the folly of missile defense, putting NATO expansion on the back burner, and cooperating on regional diplomacy to stabilize Afghanistan. After years of failed policy toward Cuba, the Administration has created new possibilities for cooperation by lifting restrictions on Cuban Americans’ visits to relatives and the amount of money they can send to them. Diplomatic overtures to Iran have also opened new windows of possibility. Obama has committed to withdrawing from Iraq on a faster timetable — and we need to push him to adhere to his commitment to security through withdrawal. It’s disappointing to see his support for increasing the defense budgetwith a new focus on counterinsurgency and low intensity conflict. But, in all, we see in Obama a sense of responsibility and a desire to reengage the world on new terms, following eight years of arrogance and swagger. We see the rough outline of an Obama Doctrine — progressive realism — a belief, as the President stated, that “we do our best to promote our ideals and our values by our example.” What will be the real test, however, is the one Obama recently described at the Summit of the Americas, “… The test for all of us is not simply words, but also deeds.”