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Honeymoon Cut Short

August 16, 2010

This is perhaps the toughest job in the world. My sympathies are with the man. Not everything that he has done has been a disaster. Yet, one cannot but help wondering as to what can resuscitate Barack Obama’s presidency. The bad news for him is that he has been found out. The good news is that he has still more than two years to go and that, as they say, is a long time in politics.

I admit that some of his moves have been honest – and ones that people have appreciated. One good idea was the health care bill and if anything that may help improve his ratings as more and more people are able to afford healthcare in these bad times. The finance bill was also full of good intentions but the ramifications of the bill are still not clear. Skeptics say that it is too little too late and that the sharks on the Wall Street will find ways to circumvent the legal maze and get on with doing what they have been doing all along.

The problem with Obama is that he gives too much credence to approval ratings. His every decision is with an eye to how it will be perceived by the public. Is he too ambitious? I do not know. The man said that he would not run for the presidency if the health care bill was passed. I think the man has an insatiable need to be liked and loved by all and sundry. Now that he is the president that urge has an audience of more than 350 million Americans and that is a big ask. I don’t think Obama would be too concerned about retaining the top job, but the innate urge of getting the approval of all and sundry is just too great. I am no psychologist, but I guess the child in Obama could never forgive his father for having abandoned his mother and him. A part of Barack blames himself for the stupid thing his father did. He therefore is super sensitive to any criticism and goes out of his way to make sure everyone around him likes him. In a job as the one he has, that surely is a big handicap. Because one cannot please everyone all the time! One goes by ones beliefs and principles. To his credit, Obama is trying to do what he thinks is right. But he has this tendency of looking over his shoulder once too often and that bogs him down.

Barack Obama and Michelle Obama

Image via Wikipedia

President Barack Obama with wife Michelle

The other problem with Obama is that he believes that he is very smart. No one denies that the man is intelligent. He is a good orator, but he is not so smart that he can solve problems sitting on his haunches. The man needs to realize that the world is full of smart people and perceptions are fragile. One small step in the wrong direction and the whole edifice falls apart. The best way to handle a situation is to go out and do ones job and don’t give a damn to perceptions and approval ratings. Have the heart to take the hard decisions and things will fall in place. It is true that having the right people in the right place is terribly important, but then Obama was never short of talent at his command. Thankfully for him, the Gulf oil leak has been plugged. That should give him more time to focus on other issues at hand.

Critics of Obama call him a ‘fake’. I think that is just too harsh. The man lacks guts. And as I said before, he is very eager to do the ‘right things’ – presidential things. You see, a president is a president and whatever he does is presidential. And a real president is one who sets a precedent and not the other way around.

I am appalled at the way Obama is handling the Iraq issue. Yes, he had made promises and yes, he needs to fulfill them. But must he do that at the risk of leaving the country in flames? The way things are evolving, it appears that by the time the Americans withdraw completely, the militia from all across the Middle East would have overtaken parts of the country. In northern Iraq, I fear a Turkish reprisal and an annihilation of the Kurds. I can also see that Shia and Sunni militia with different loyalties fighting it out. The recent string of bomb attacks in various cities of Iraq is a trailer of what is in store for the nation. The west backed government is ill equipped to handle the situation. Obama must withdraw his troops not only because he had promised this but also because this he believes will be a popular move back home. He believes that parents and family of the soldiers in Iraq will give him the credit for getting their kids/spouses back and that will be a feather in his cap. What Obama fails to understand is that if Iraq turns to cinders it will be a real threat to the security of the region and the world. And God forbid if there was another terrorist attack on America and some of those guys happen to be Arabs, Obama will find himself in a very uncomfortable position. The fact is that Iraq is a tinder box ready to explode, and needs to be handled carefully.

In Afghanistan too, the situation is far from stable. Gen. Petraeus has said that the American forces will not evacuate in a hurry. But the fact is that the allies are already leaving. The Dutch have left and the Canadians are packing their bags ready to leave early next year. Obama is unable to provide the kind of leadership that inspires confidence in the top military commanders and the allies who are there to help them out. Obama has declared that the American troops will start pulling out in mid-2011. He reckons that were the troops to come back home before the elections his chances of a return to the White House will increase infinitely. That is no way to fight a war, and that is no way to provide leadership to the nation. The easy thing to do was to show Gen. Stanley McChrystal the door. Which he did without much ado. Again the Gallup polls helped him decide which way to go. Is this a presidency or is this a joke? I am not sure Obama even cares now as to what the strategic objectives in Afghanistan are. The troops will hum and haw for another couple of years and will withdraw completely in a few months – their ‘mission’ complete. I did hear Hillary Clinton say that the American troops will remain in Afghanistan till 2014, but I am not sure President Obama has such long term plans for the region.

The biggest sticking point for the Obama presidency is the Iran issue. Clearly, the sanctions are not working. Obama is loath to get into another war. The fact of the matter is that he is only pushing the envelope when he is hoping that better sense will prevail. The man needs to take some hard decisions and such decisions cannot wait forever.

There are a few things that Obama needs to do to resurrect his presidency:

  1. Stop posing for the shutter bags and get on with the job. A dip in the Gulf with daughter Sasha impresses no one. Get real and stop playing to the gallery – the public is not a moron and the White House is not a Hollywood set.
  2. Get down to what is good for the nation and for the world.
  3. Be honest with the people of America. If the situation demands that his earlier stand needs to be revised be honest enough to tell the people that because of the situation on the ground he cannot do what he had promised in the first place.
  4. Do not shy away from taking hard decisions. The proverbial ‘buck stops at his desk’ is very true and he must realize that he needs to take decisions. Stop playing safe and get on with the job.
  5. Stop trying to act ‘presidential’ and just focus on the problems at hand – there are quite a few. The economy for one needs more attention. Ben Bernanke may be doing a good job but even he needs inputs from the political leadership. That could be critical to the bounce back that is sorely needed by Americans and the world at large.
  6. I know that the family comes first, but there are times when it comes second. An extravagant tour to Spain by Michelle Obama was certainly not on. Get real.
  7. Lastly, if Obama is serious about a second term in office he must learn to stop looking at the approval ratings all the time. That is one sure way of getting back the job another time around.

As I said earlier, it is the toughest job on earth. But then I sincerely believe that Americans did not make the wrong choice. The man has it in him to deliver. There is a section that is baying for his blood. But then no president has had it easy. He is under the microscope 24×7. And that is part of the job. It is true that the phenomenon that was Barack Obama is a child of the economic down turn. But it is also true that a man grows with the job. Regrettably, with Barack Obama that does not seem to be happening.

As I write this the news comes of a massive suicide bomb attack at a recruiting centre where more than 45 people have died. The CNN has reported the story as follows:

At least 45 people were killed and 121 others wounded Tuesday morning when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden vest in central Baghdad as men were queuing up outside an Iraqi army recruitment center, the interior ministry said.

The attack took place in the Bab al-Moudham commercial area.

The BBC has reported that more than 51 people have died and 108 injured, some grievously.

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