The ship of state is back on course

Prior to and immediately following President Obama's election, many Americans found themselves wondering if the new president could deliver on the cornucopia of promises he made over the course of his campaign.

These promises call not only for abstract change, but for real, concrete progress in the realm of relations with the Middle East, as well as domestic social well-being. After a historic and emotionally-charged campaign culminating in a cathartic win replete with sweeping musical score, it seemed that presidential candidate Obama would be a tough act for President Obama to follow.

But just over a week into his presidency, Obama has proven that he is as decisive a leader as he is skilled at making John McCain look flustered and pruny. Obama's aggressive backing of his new stimulus package illustrates that he is unafraid to use his considerable political momentum and Democratic majority to bulldoze over opposition from Republicans - whose appraisals of the package range from "insane" to "the end of days" - while urging them to "stop being such fuddy-duddies."

Reasonable Republican complaints over the $900 billion money shower notwithstanding, the package represents a progressive step in federal spending in the name of social welfare, with much of the $550 billion of the spending portion of the package going toward jobless benefits, health care, food stamps and other programs to aid those suffering from the unemployment spike. Though the package constitutes a wild spending spree in the height of recession, most on Capitol Hill feel it will breathe new life into the economy and extend a welcome hand to those wobbling under the weight of economic downturn.

Obama's dedication to facing up to America's problems doesn't end there. He has also tackled the goal of oil independence with renewed zeal; aiming for an increase in auto efficiency to 35 miles per gallon by 2011 - nine years sooner than Bush's 2020 deadline. Furthermore, Obama's energy plan, which aims for the creation of five million "green collar" jobs and slashed carbon emissions, hinges on complete oil independence within 10 years - an impressive goal considering we could have elected a president whose solution to oil dependence was to drill a big hole in it.

In perhaps his most promising move as president so far, Obama has made immediate and bold strides in the field of relations with the troubled and anti-American Middle East. Tellingly, Obama's first televised interview as president was with Dubai-based Al-Arabiya, in which he laid out his plans to listen rather than dictate to the Muslim world, and expressed that there is no reason why we cannot restore "the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago."

The interview also reveals that the Obama administration will be moving away from the strategy that has heretofore dominated U.S. politics with Muslim nations: namely that of forcing democracy down their throats with a hydraulic ram regardless of our reputation. Obama's interview represents a step toward fulfilling his promise to leaders like Iranian President Ahmadinejad that "we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."

While the reaction to Obama's address across the Middle East was varied, with Ahmadinejad calling for the U.S. to apologize for past actions before it will consider the possibility of real change, it is a step toward compromise and an indication that under Obama's new, more sincere form of diplomacy, old enemies may indeed unclench their fists, if only one strategically-chosen finger at a time.