America has had it’s new president for about a week now. He is Democrat, while the previous one was Republican. The new one was a relatively unknown underdog who rose to power through rational and effective ideas communicated with conviction, while the previous one may have had some help from his family. The new guy is a young black male while his predecessor is a little bit older, white, with significantly more gray in his hair. To put it briefly, we all know that Obama and Bush are very different from one another. And it was clear that these differences would lead to different policies, priorities, and strategies from the new administration. But I cannot recall a first week in office for a new President where he has distanced himself so fundamentally from his predecessor in such a short span of time. Some examples include:
Signing executive orders to shut down Guantanamo Bay
Guantanamo Bay was one of the worst (among many) black eyes for the Bush administration. Bush used the collective fear that 9/11 produced in order to justify the creation of a secret detention center for terrorism suspects in Cuba. There, the US (shrewdly referring to the detainees as “enemy combatants” rather than “prisoners of war”) managed to sidestep the Geneva Convention, which details the legal limits that interrogators must respect vis a vis their detainees. In Bush’s “Global War on Terror”, there is no doubt that (much like Abu Ghraib) Guantanamo Bay only served to radicalize and strengthen the enemy, while leaving US credibility severely damaged. Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and the CIA’s secret prisons were all areas where certain US soldiers threw human decency and international law out the window, and their irresponsible, cruel, and unusual actions may have led to some quality information gathering, but in the end, it is America’s worldwide reputation which was most negatively affected. Obama’s decision to close down these areas where torture, humiliation, and secrecy are paramount immediately places the Obama administration a few notches above his predecessor in terms of morality and sends a strong message to the rest of the world that basic human decency will be respected with this administration. As the President said, ““our ideals give us the strength and moral high ground” in the fight against Al Qaeda.
Acting on global warming
Less than a week into his presidency, Obama announced that he will be doing his part to drastically reduce emission levels across the country. He gave states the power to set their own standards for emission as well as for fuel-efficiency, rather than follow the federal requirements. Chances are that California will be the leader in terms of setting stricter emission regulations, as well as making sure that all cars on the roads make the cut in terms of fuel-efficiency. Obama has said many times before being elected that he wanted to “end US dependence on foreign oil”. This act is him walking the walk. While automakers are passionately against this measure, it seems a good thing for the future and our environment that they will be forced to manufacture fuel-efficient cars. A future in which more and more small fuel-efficient cars are on the road, with less and less SUVs and gas guzzlers is a nice thought, and now may become a reality.
First interview: Al Arabiya?
This is more symbolic than anything else but I found it very interesting that Obama’s first official TV interview since taking the throne was to an Arab TV station. The interview was done with a station called Al Arabiya, based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Obama was trying to create a bridge between his new administration and the Muslim world and to send a clear signal that the new administration was there to listen, not to dictate. He repeatedly mentioned that Muslims are not America’s enemies. He spoke of his family, which he said contains many Muslim members. He spoke of his time living in Muslim countries. He managed to strike a tone of mutual respect, rationality, soberness, but also hope at the same time. This was a bold gesture and may be seen down the road as a strong starting point towards beginning to repair the deep rift between Americans and Muslims. Here is a clip: