Saturday, July 25, 2009

America is not home

-Published in Hurriyet Daily News on July 25, 2009-

-Hurriyet Daily News'te, 25 Temmuz 2009 Tarihinde Yayinlanmis Makalem-

Last Wednesday evening, prime time American TV channels were once again dominated by the president of the United States, Barack Obama. This is his fourth prime time appearance since coming to office, whereas the previous president, George W. Bush, reached this number during his eight years in office. This clearly shows how much Obama loves the prime time TV talk spots and also that the American people still are interested in what he has to say. This interest, undoubtedly, is good news for Obama as it gives him the chance to speak to his people, often directly, instead of the few seconds of news bits along with the brutal commentators' stingy interventions.

I, like many Americans, tuned in to the event. Obama, standing in the East Room of the White House before a dim background lit by two bright candles, seemed like a saint or a savior, or both. Lasting about 55 minutes, the conference was specifically focused on the health care reform that Obama has been pushing for some time as his first big policy change. Although the press conference was about the health care proposal, we still expected to hear a couple of questions with respect to the international arena.

Amid Obama's long answers to the health care reform questions, no one had the opportunity to ask or even try to ask non-domestic questions. In that respect, the press conference was such a contrast from the ones that were made by his predecessor. President Bush's press conferences were mostly about other countries' problems. Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Palestine and China were just some of the countries that were on the table for questions. Most of the time, what was happening in America did not attract much attention or any questions during Bush press conferences.

The Bush presidency, with its arrogance or high ambitions, depending on how you look at it, was trying to shape the world and the problematic regions around the globe. The Obama presidency, on the other hand, has been so far, focused solely on domestic problems, or as Obama constantly reiterates, on problems that have been inherited from the previous administration. Bush had few domestic agendas and little time to allocate to those problems. For example, Bush decided to overhaul the social security system in 2005, right after he was re-elected. However, after few weeks of pushing, rallying and bickering to privatize the social security system, patience quickly melted away when it hit opposition from the Democrats on the Hill with the help of the Government Accounting Office's cold water projections over the reform. And the Bush administration continued with its freedom agenda preaching democracy to rest of the world, as it seemed for most of the part, the economy was growing, unemployment was at a record low and there was no crisis looming.

Now, after eight years of outward-looking presidency, America has its own inward-looking presidency to deal with its own vital issues.

America has been getting poorer by the day and its debt scares even the average American. In fact, one of the biggest criticisms for Obama is his seemingly careless attitude towards the growing deficit, which he only started to address in this last press conference more brusquely. This enormous debt, which is over $11 trillion, an important part of it to China and fast accumulating as we speak, not only strikes Obama's standing in terms of domestic politics, but also decamps his saintly profile in the international arena. For instance, Obama and his secretary of state Hillary Clinton could not even speak out over what happened to the Uyghur Turks in China. America, which is supposed to root passionately for people who simply seek their human and democratic rights, has unusually kept mum and its mouth shut.

It can be safely said now that, except for the Afghanistan War, America's domestic agenda is its only priority. In that respect, America might want to broker a peace deal between Israel and Palestine, however, if Israel were to use its leverage in Capitol Hill to slow down some of the important components of legislation with its die hard backers there, Obama might think that this slowing down could be more deadly to his presidency than postponing the peace process a few more months.

In brief, the period of pre-emptive enemy attacks, unilateral approaches, crazy spending and living beyond ones means, are over. Many Americans are having difficulty adjusting to these new times and to developing a habit of saving for darker days. And the American economy, which is based on consumption, is getting another hit and spiraling into a vicious circle with this new enforced strange attitude.

Amid this gloomy outlook of American internal affairs, Obama knows he can only be a hero if he tackles at least some of these America's domestic challenges in the coming months.

The only question now is whether Obama is the right guy to carry out this historic mission. Obama needs to get the economy going again, balance the budget, reform broken systems such as health care, and primary and secondary education, fix the infrastructure of the country, create new jobs, set the painful and unpopular restrictions to use cleaner industries, end the wars, dismantle nuclear weapons across the globe and stop North Korea and Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and attend to other urgent matters at the same time. Was there any U.S. president, or any other president in history, who has this many fiery problems all at once? I doubt it.

The American people hope and pray that Obama is the 'one,' the one that only comes once in a generation to save the nation from all its troubles and resurrect its buoyancy. Obama has been casting himself as that 'one'. The real tests and thrilling episodes for him and for America will start as of September, something we will discuss here extensively in future columns.

In the meantime, a note for foreign indigents who look for America's help: Until America's own spirit is revived and rekindled, America is not home.

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