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Obama is now President

What the US is experiencing is a Dickensian paradox. It is the best of times for America as it has got Barack Obama at the helm and it is the worst of times for her as she is mired in deep crises on a number of fronts.

Obama, as could be gathered from his impressive inaugural address, is quite au fait with the gravity of challenges he is faced with. "Our nation," he said, "is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many …"

Need for change, readiness to face challenges and will to succeed are the leitmotivs that ran through President Obama's speech. He held out the hope of remaking America and reaching out to the rest of the world as a friend. "America is," he said, "a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity and … we are ready to lead once more."

However, in the same breath, he sent a message to America's enemies: "For those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you." We only hope this policy will apply to all terrorist outfits equally including those that don't pose a threat as such to the US.

Obama's address on Tuesday had more rhetoric than his victory speech, and a touch of Bushism as well. He defended the scale of US ambitions and faulted those who questioned it. He warned the leaders around the globe who sought to sow conflict or blame their societies' ills on the West and offered to extend a hand to those on the wrong side of history provided they unclenched their fists.

He did not forget the US troops fighting overseas, "As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains." He made no bones about his aversion to communism like all his predecessors: "Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks …" He chose to lump fascism and communism together. However, his promise that the US would 'begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan' was indicative of a radical departure from the approach of the Bush administration.

The billion dollar question is whether the oil hungry hawks surrounding the White House will take kindly to that promise or whether Obama will be able to carry it out.

In an otherwise seemingly flawless speech, President Obama found himself in a contradiction, when he said he would not offer an apology for America's way of life and promised to defend it unwaveringly. Immediately afterwards, he said America could no longer 'consume the world's resources without regard to effect adding, "For the world has changed and we must change with it."

One is intrigued. How could such a change be brought about without America's way of life undergoing a radical change first of all? We wonder how a nation could adapt itself to the zeitgeist of a changing world while remaining hidebound and holding its ethos, way of life etc. sacrosanct.

Using President Lincoln's bible for the oath taking ceremony, Obama fondly remembered the first settlers who had 'packed up their few worldly possessions and travelled across oceans in search of a new life and the American war heroes who had fought 'in places like Concord, and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sanh'.

Then he boasted, "We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth." The message the new President sought to send across through such evocative references may have been that he was no less patriotic than his predecessors and would do his utmost to perpetuate America's supremacy. That, no doubt, is what all patriotic Americans expect of him. (We hope the INGO fraternity won't brand President Obama a chauvinist!)

President Obama's sense of urgency is felt throughout his address. "Everywhere we look, there is work to be done," he said, "The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act––not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth… All this we can do and all this we will do."

That exactly is what the US needs at this hour of crisis. And his address could not have had a better ending. Quoting the famous words of the father of the nation, he said: "With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations."

What an inspiring conclusion!

We have heard Obama enough during the past so many months. He is extraordinarily articulate and one of the finest orators the world has ever produced. Now, the time has finally come for President Obama to match his brilliant oratory with concrete action. He looks sanguine, confident and equal to the task.

Will America be able to achieve the change it desires so strongly? We hope it will.


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