As we mark the first 100 days of Barack Obama’s presidency, it is staggering to consider the enormous challenges he inherited from his predecessor, arguably our worst president ever. Can the devastation wrought by an eight-year nightmare be sorted out in 100 days? Of course not. That’s why Obama asked for his accomplishments to be measured not by the first 100 days but by the first 1,000.
Obama deserves credit for the scale and scope of the agenda he has laid out and for confronting the challenges head-on. Within the first 100 hours of his inauguration, he pledged to close Guantánamo and CIA “black sites,” banned the use of torture and repealed the global gag rule on reproductive rights. In the early weeks of his term, he lifted Bush’s ban on funding for stem cell research, took steps to restore science to its proper place with regard to climate change and embarked on a transformation to a green economy. He quickly passed a strong stimulus bill that, despite its inadequate size and overemphasis on tax cuts, charts a path to economic recovery. Taken together, the stimulus plan and Obama’s proposed budget signal a clear break from the ill-conceived dogma about deficit reduction that has defined and limited economic policy for the past thirty years.
On diplomacy, Obama has restored a sense of responsibility and re-engagement with the world after eight years of arrogance and swagger. We see in his progressive realism the rough outline of an Obama doctrine–a belief that, as the president stated, “We do our best to promote our ideals and our values by our example.” To that end, he has called for better US cooperation in global alliances, and gave a firm endorsement of the United Nations. He has declared his commitment to nuclear weapons abolition, thereby opening the door to a renewed and wiser nonproliferation framework. His willingness to engage with countries whose interests and ideas diverge from ours–notably Iran, Russia and Cuba–has created possibilities for cooperation.
But there are two things we fear could endanger the Obama presidency: military escalation in Afghanistan and the bank bailout. Obama has wisely committed his administration to a phased withdrawal from Iraq, but his support for expanding the counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan is disappointing. Ramping up the conflict there could negate the positive effects in the Muslim world of withdrawing from Iraq while further destabilizing Pakistan, opening a rift with our European allies and bleeding us of the resources needed for economic recovery at home. We hope that hearings in Congress and citizen pressure will push the administration to bear down on regional diplomacy, common-sense counterterrorism measures and targeted development aid as the best security policies to stabilize the region.
The other area of concern is the bank bailout, a taxpayer-funded gift to Wall Street that could undermine much of the good in the economic plan. With the economy cratering and many projections indicating double-digit unemployment through 2011, there is a sense that Obama has given with one hand through his stimulus package and budget proposal but taken away with the other through the bank bailout. Selecting the Summers/Geithner team was a huge lost opportunity and a major misstep. When more bonuses are paid out and more self-dealing exposed, we may see more anger, especially in the form of right-wing populism.