Obama’s second term as US president: Jan 21st 2013

As required by the US constitution, Barack Hussain Obama took the oath of office in the White House at a private ceremony yesterday, before noon. Today he took the oath again at a public ceremony on Capitol Hill. When he was elected four years ago as the 44th president, it was hailed as a historic event as it was the first time that an African American was elected to the highest office in this country. At that time the republicans, both in the senate and in the house of representatives, made it their one point program to restrain his presidency to one term. Inspite of their efforts he was re-elected for the second term.

When he took office in 2009, the economy of the country was almost as bad as it was during the depression. Some people said it would end up being worse than the depression. But he did not lose heart. His massive bail-out of failing banks and the auto industry saved the situation. During the last four years the economy is showing signs of slow but sure recovery. The bailed out institutions have turned the corner and some of the loans granted to them have been repaid. The President’s most important achievement, however, during the first term, was the new health care act. Universal health care has been a long standing dream of the country. But all attempts to bring about this reform were thwarted by the argument that it was financially ruinous to the economy of the country. Statistics show that medical health programs in the US are costlier than in many other developed countries which provide better care systems. This is because hospitalization and insurance costs are very high in the US. President Obama has pledged to bring down these costs and overhaul the system. Another achievement of his was the reform of the financial institutions. Decades of deregulation starting from the Reagan era had given rise to unaccountable financial transactions in the country. Most economists agree that it is this long period of deregulation and irresponsible behavior of mortgaging institutions that brought about the financial collapse of 2008. The President successfully passed regulations to curb these unhealthy practices. Of course, there were many other promises that he had made like comprehensive immigration reform which he could not complete during his first term. Energy policy was to be revamped in view of global warming. This also was not tackled.

The second term provides an opportunity to the President to take up these incomplete tasks. Judging from the inaugural speech that he made after being sworn in for the second term, he seems determined to fulfill his promises. The most important change which many people across the world seemed to ignore is in the realm of the foreign policy of the country. In the past, especially during the Bush years, between 2000 and 2008, the US had taken on the role of the “world-policeman”. Bush arrogantly declined to sign the Kyoto protocol regarding limiting green house gas emissions. He also paid scant regard to resolutions of the United Nations. He seemed to assume that the UN had no business to do anything which went against the interests of USA. He advocated the right of the country to wage pre-emptive wars in order to preserve the interests of USA. President Obama, on the contrary, was opposed to these policies enunciated by Bush. He realized that USA could not succeed in playing the role of world-policeman. He also realized that the policy of waging pre-emptive wars would only earn the ire and ill-will of other countries towards US. He had made the promise even when he was campaigning before the first term began, that he would end the war in Iraq which was unjustified on all counts. He kept that promise. But he was forced to continue the war in Afghanistan. He promised that he would end this war as well, at an early date, and he kept that promise too. Most notably his response to the so-called Arab spring all over the middle east was a very pragmatic and sober one. It was heartening to note during the Libyan crisis that he emphasized the necessity to involve the United Nations in resolving the conflicts. This foreign policy change was of profound significance not only to USA but to the entire world.

In fact, the two most important fields in which his actions will be closely watched during the second term by the whole world will be encouragement to renewable resources of energy and strengthening UN activities all over the world.

Of immediate interest to India especially is the US policy towards Pakistan. Only two days ago ex-president of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, who is currently living in London, has expressed his intention to return to his country to contest the next elections. Not surprisingly, he has added that only the army can restore democracy in the country. It is well-known that during the years when he was in power, he used the argument that to keep the Taliban in check he needed huge aid from USA in the form of money and arms. It is also known that much of this help fell into the hands of the Taliban. This was not surprising considering that the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence of the Pakistani army) was hand-in-glove with the Taliban. This was a fact not unknown to the US, with whose knowledge this co-ordination occurred. It was a result of the foreign policy of the US itself which used Taliban forces to fight anti-American forces in Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. It was a legacy of the Bush years, from which Obama is trying hard to break away. Considering the way the US government dealt with Pakistan during the attack on Osama-Bin-Laden’s hide-out, which ended in his death, makes one believe that President Obama is not likely to be taken in by Pervez Musharraf’s argument again. India should keep this factor in mind while shaping their policy towards Pakistan. Their best hope is in promoting people-to-people contact between the two countries and in encouraging democratic institutions.

Coming back to Obama, if one goes by what he said during his second inauguration, and if one remembers what he did in his first term against tremendous odds, the next four years should see great changes in the affairs of the strongest country in the world.