Obama inherits confusion, uneasiness

Friday, January 16, 2009

The presidency of George W. Bush -- which ends in less than 100 hours -- tests the theory that nothing is ever as bad as it seems.

Writing about the eight years of Bush administration foibles is kind of like shooting fish in a barrel. And to be honest, the most realistic testament to the Bush presidency is not the past, but the future.

As with football coaches or corporate CEOs, one of the most honest appraisals for executive job performance is what the executive bequeaths to his or her successor.

Is there stability and continuity?

Or is there uneasiness and confusion?

When it comes to the end of the Bush presidency and the beginning the Obama administration, the answers are clear: the future is murky.

That's not to say the United States won't be able to dig itself out. But as Obama gets set to take office Tuesday, there are 1,000 questions that must be weighing on his mind.

And there are no easy options.

Take the economy. Obama is already squabbling with his own party, threatening a veto if Senate Democrats try to block the second half of financial bailout funds.

Democrats, of course, aren't opposed to spending the money -- the sum of which is $350 billion. But they say they want to take their time in developing a comprehensive oversight package. Obama's answer: we don't have much time.

And, of course, that's the rub: there is no clock ticking away, no tangible instrument which can tell us what to do. Top economists can estimate, but "estimate" is another word for "guess."

At what point do you try and do something right? And at what point do you something to get it done?

While they hash it count, Marshall County businesses like Sanford and Trison Coatings will remain susceptible to the whims of a wheezing economy.

There are no easy choices.

Then there's the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Obama's mind-set, it seems, is to take resources from Iraq and move them to Afghanistan, the country from where the 9/11 attacks came from. In other words, Iraq is the bad war; Afghanistan is the good war.

It seems to be a common-sense approach, but there are huge questions: If resources are taken away from Iraq, will the gains made there over the last year be lost? Will the situation return to major chaos? Is Afghanistan -- which the British failed to conquer in the 19th century and the Soviets failed to conquer in the 20th century -- even winnable, at least militarily.

There are no easy choices.

After Obama closes down the terror detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, does he expose them to the legal system? What does he do about Bush and vice president Dick Cheney's defense of waterboarding, considered a war crime as recently as World War II? What does he do about Islamist terorrists? How can he help Americans find a truce the culture war? And can he push the right buttons to help the economy get back on the right track?

There are no easy answers.

Nothing is ever as difficult as it seems, but right now, Obama inherits a difficult situation. And it'll be interesting to see how he handles it.