Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Barack Obama and the burden of excessive expectation

Besides the crushing burden of a crippled economy, leaders around the world are expecting Mr. Obama to follow through on his promises to reach out to the world and rebuild the US's reputation. I cannot remember another president in my lifetime for whom the bar was set so high even as a situation in such complete shambles was being handed off by his predecessor. Add to that the fact that the Hannitys and Limbaughs of the world - as well as every racist or semi-racist blogger and organization out there - are hoping he will fail, waiting for his first misstep or slip, and more than willing to give him a little push down those stairs . . . well, the enormity of the tasks confronting him is obvious.

And while many have such high hopes and expectations, just as many are sure that he will fail, because, they believe, the US and its allies, despite the talk of change, are determined to keep Muslim countries under their heel.

But some very positive signs are emerging:
1. As of last evening, even as he was waltzing with Michelle to the crooning of Beyonce, Obama has called a halt to the Guantanamo trials.
2. The indications are that Obama is poised to appoint former senator George Mitchell as his special envoy for addressing the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. Several years ago, Mitchell was the co-author of a report that, among other recommendations, called upon Israel to stop expanding its settlement project in the West Bank.

As one report has noted, Israel is likely worried that Obama may be bringing Mitchell on board. But the question remains: how aggressive (some would say, balanced) can Obama be in addressing this crisis? He also is expected to take huge steps in addressing the economic crisis, and to do that effectively, he needs to garner and keep on board all the support he can muster in Congress. Congress, of course, has signalled its overwhelming support for Israel against Hamas in recent days, and seems to be in no mood to relax that stance - even when polls show that the American people have a much more balanced (or, at least, evenly split) take on what Israel did in Gaza. AIPAC, WINEP, and the Israel lobby (including Fox News "all-stars" like Charles Krauthammer of the WaPo and William Kristol of the NYT) are going to be watching closely.

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