President Obama: A Report Card
President Obama has made strides forward in his first two years in office.
President Barack Obama had a lot on his plate when he entered office. Our country was at war and the economy was in shambles. Not only that, but President Obama came in promising change and offering hope to the hopeless, a task easier campaigned than done. But having nearly reached the halfway point in his first presidential term, just how well has the President done?
War, Military, and Foreign Policy
With two wars on his hands, Obama made two major campaign promises from the very beginning: end the war in Iraq by withdrawing and send two additional brigades into Afghanistan, where the Taliban, al-Qaida and violent extremism are rampant.
So far, Obama has done both.
During his first full day in office, Obama met privately with military officials in command and asked them to plan a responsible drawdown from Iraq, effectively ending the war. After the meeting, Obama said he would carefully review the situation in Afghanistan in order to develop policy for the entire region.
And he did.
He sent the two additional promised brigades to Afghanistan, and in January, ordered an additional 30,000 troops to be sent.
Though no war is better than some war, Obama is working to stabilize the region. He has paid more attention and care to Afghanistan than Bush ever did, focusing on counterterrorism operations and support for NATO against the Taliban.
He's also increased spending for military equipment, helping the troops fight more safely and more efficiently.
Not only that, but he sent the additional troops with a timeline for withdrawal.
"After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home," Obama said. "These are the resources that we need to seize the initiative, while building the Afghan capacity that can allow for a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan."
No word yet on whether the timeline for withdrawal will be met, but I've got my fingers crossed.
After his inauguration, President Obama also said he hoped to close Guantanamo Bay within the year. Though setting such a short deadline on the closure of Gitmo was a little farfetched, Obama continues to work toward keeping his original campaign promise of closing it altogether.
The detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was the holding site for a number of terrorists and seemed to be a breeding ground for human rights violations. There was no legal responsibility whatsoever, and there are a number of reported cases of torture and religious abuses at Gitmo. This caused former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and President Obama himself to support the closure of the facility.
The president has taken major strides in accomplishing this goal. Though it's not closed yet, Obama has identified a prison in Illinois that could potentially be the new Gitmo, minus the legal ineptitude and horrible reputation, and signed an executive order banning all forms of torture.
His plan still needs government approval and funding (the prison needs to be retrofitted to accommodate its new detainees), but it looks promising. Obama faces some opposition, but in November, the Senate rejected a measure to restrict funds for the new facility.
In other foreign relations news, Obama kept his promise of holding a nuclear terrorism summit, getting 47 nations together to discuss the security issues surrounding nuclear proliferation. This yielded a number of commitments for tighter security on nuclear arsenals and materials from foreign nations, though no tougher sanctions were imposed on Iran nuclear ambitions.
Though the U.S. is still far from universal health care, Obama has done an enormous job in securing greater health care benefits for millions of Americans.
In March, President Obama signed into law a bill that requires insurance companies to accept people with preexisting conditions into their coverage, a law that would help more than 52 million non-elderly Americans.
Obama also accomplished another of his major health care promises: eliminating the "doughnut hole" in the Medicare Part D Drug Program that limits drug benefits for seniors.
The doughnut hole limits benefits for seniors with more than $2,250 but less than $5,100 in annual drug costs and affected approximately four million seniors in 2006. Those that fell within the doughnut hole had to pay full price for drugs while also paying their plan premiums.
Though the hole won't be closed out immediately, it will be phased out within the next 10 years.
One of Obama's most important health care promises was to create a National Health Insurance Exchange that would help Americans and businesses purchase private health insurance.
Though a national exchange wasn't accomplished, state-based exchanges were created. This keeps the federal government out of the regulation, but state officials argue it's better this way since currently, health insurance regulation happens at the state level.
It wasn't exactly what he wanted, but is the first step toward a more comprehensive health care system for all Americans.
Earmark reform was a major part of the 2008 presidential election. Republican nominee John McCain was quick to point out when money was being wasted, and Barack Obama fired back that he was as against earmarks as anyone.
President Obama got a chance to prove it though when he signed the economic stimulus bill, the first major spending bill of his presidency.
This bill could have been chock-full of earmarks, but it wasn't. Though it did have a few, experts say it was largely earmark-free, quite a feat considering the size of the bill.
That leads us into the stimulus bill. Did it work? Is the recession over?
It's still tough to calculate, but experts think the stimulus act did do a good job of helping the economy bounce back after that horrible plunge.
During its inception, Republicans across the board nay-sayed the bill, thinking it would have catastrophic effects on the national deficit. By Nov. 2009, pundits on both sides of the issue agreed that the bill was in fact working. High-speed rail projects across the nation are coming to fruition, parks and recreation departments are seeing renovations, and medical care is seeing impressive technological advancements.
Now, we're in a second round of stimulus. After the $787 billion stimulus bill, job loss continued to rise, with unemployment reaching more than 10 percent, after-effects of the previously downward spiraling economy.
This led to the jobs bill and the Democratic push for tax breaks and unemployment aid.
The effects of these measures are yet to be seen, but already unemployment has dropped to 9.7 percent.
When we said the president had a lot on his plate, we meant it. The president did a lot to relieve some of the country's ailments, mainly tackling the economy and the wars, and also took on his own personal mission of improving health care.
But it doesn't end there.
There is also immigration to deal with, education, gay rights, environmentalism and a ton of other things that he took on when applying for the job of president.
Let's talk a bit about immigration.
Though there's nothing wrong with amnesty, unfortunately it wasn't one of his campaign promises. He did promise to secure the borders however, and has taken some measure to fulfill that promise.
Obama vaguely described the addition of security forces at the Mexico border, and he got his chance over a year ago, when a rash of violent crimes at the border broke out. Homeland Security officials then announced that $700 million would be spent on helping the Mexican government track down illegal drug cartels.
During a recent meeting between Obama and Mexico's president Felipe Calderon, Obama showed support for a legal pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants and denounced Arizona's SB1070, which legalizes racial profiling and wastes money on unnecessary police resources.
President Obama is also working to repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, which prohibits gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military.
Though it hasn't been repealed yet, the House voted to repeal it after military commanders conduct a study to prove the move would not be disruptive, a major step forward in the fight for gay rights.
On the education forefront, Obama is also working hard to move ahead.
Obama has promised to dedicate $2 billion for a global education fund, which would provide an alternative to extremist schools in foreign nations. So far, he has outlined that a portion of the 2010 budget for foreign aid would go directly to the global fund.
At home, he's working on providing more healthy environments for children at school, including increased financial support for physical education programs, clinical services and overall educational programs.
This only scratches the surface but is a good representation of how many campaign promises Obama has indeed accomplished. He's negotiated on a few promises for the greater good and broken even fewer promises, but has maintained his overall commitment to change. Can't wait to see what his second two years in office will bring.