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100 days: Obama's bold start defined by promise, pitfalls

(Credit: Politirazzi)

President Barack Obama has wrapped up his first 100 days in office by launching an ambitious and broad agenda. (AP)

By Emily Ngo

He campaigned for office on a platform of swift and sweeping change. Now, 100 days into his historic presidency, Barack Obama is pressing to fulfill that promise.

Supporters hail the nation’s first black president for acting decisively on a slew of issues. Critics contend that Obama, taking on too much too soon, is steering the country down the wrong path.

Here’s an overview of key actions Obama, 47, has taken since his Jan. 20 swearing-in:

Economy

Tackling the most daunting issue plaguing the nation, Obama signed a $787 billion stimulus into law with little Republican support. He and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner then introduced bailout plans for the financial and auto sectors, vowing increased oversight and putting a regulation overhaul into motion.

The road to recovery, however, was made bumpier by several Cabinet candidates’ tax problems and AIG’s controversial $165 million bonus payout. How soon joblessness eases, and whether consumer confidence is restored, remains to be seen.

“The stimulus package is going to be the key to his administration, the big enchilada,” said political consultant Jerry Skurnik of Prime New York. “If he can turn it around, he’ll be considered a success. If he doesn’t turn it around, then he’s got a big problem.”What’s next: It’s still too soon to gauge the success of Obama’s spending bill, but he awaits Congress’ decision this week on his proposed $3.6 trillion budget, which is likely to face resistance; evaluates the bank stress test results; and prepares the nation for another possible surge of stimulus.

Foreign policy

The commander in chief vowed a troop withdrawal from Iraq by the end of 2011 and planned a buildup in Afghanistan. He also has nearly reversed the doctrine of former President George W. Bush on international adversaries, loosening restrictions on Cuba and opening up channels of communication with Iran and Venezuela.

“Where [Bush was] aggressive and antagonistic and constantly getting us into trouble unnecessarily, Obama is pragmatic and realistic and willing to let people work with the United States,” said Democratic media consultant Joseph Mercurio.

What’s next: The president’s largest foreseeable challenges will be the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and the Taliban foothold in Pakistan, said political analyst Doug Muzzio, a professor at Baruch College. Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also will need to manage North Korea’s nuclear threats and push for a peaceful solution for Israel and the Palestinians.

National security

Among Obama’s early initiatives were the scheduled closure of the Guantanamo Bay military prison and the ban on torture tactics. He released confidential CIA memos on Bush-era interrogation methods earlier this month. Obama’s first national security test was the Somali pirate attack on an American-flagged ship followed by the near-pandemic swine flu outbreak.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney led the GOP attack, arguing that Obama has made the U.S. more susceptible to a terror attack.

What’s next: The president and Clinton must figure out how to share resources with the Mexican government to fight drug cartels along the border, convince countries to take on Gitmo detainees and combat swine flu panic.

Other issues

Obama is fleshing out his plans for a larger social safety net. Campaign promises to make health care universal and immigration more inclusive “have not yet been fully addressed, but you see some movement on them, at least conceptually,” Muzzio said.

Obama’s order to allow federal funding for stem cell research demonstrated a less ideologically and religiously constrained stance than his predecessor, Muzzio said.

Obama also is working on climate change issues, said campaign strategist Kevin Wardally of Bill Lynch Associates, promoting a cap-and-trade program for carbon emissions and halting offshore oil and gas drilling.

“Here you have a president who’s in command of himself, command of the issues, command of the room,” Muzzio said.

Obama has managed a strong start, but “the next nine months are likely to prove more difficult than the first three,” said Brookings Institution fellow William Galston, former policy adviser to President Bill Clinton. “It is easier to broach issues than to resolve them.”

Tags: barack obama , congress , 100 days , economy , analysis , history

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