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Making the Grade?
Amid all the recent end-of-year/end-of-decade reflections, President Barack Obama took the presidential prerogative to take to the airwaves -- and also go online -- to share his assessment of his first year in office.
Not surprisingly, he touted his accomplishments and downplayed his missteps. He focused on signs of economic recovery by emphasizing what he considers his administration's success in preventing further financial erosion, while also acknowledging that many Americans remain out of work and are feeling the pinch.
As the first anniversary of Obama's historic inauguration approaches, we posit our own scorecard, focusing on other areas of particular concern to the Jewish community:
· Health Care: Though not yet a done deal, the health care legislation headed for a House-Senate compromise takes a significant step forward in reshaping a system in desperate need of reform. Although the final version is likely to fall short in many areas -- including focusing almost exclusively on insurance reform at the expense of cost controls, as well as sacrificing some abortion-rights provisions -- it will succeed in providing nearly universal coverage. It will also eliminate the loopholes that preyed on individuals with pre-existing conditions or those who changed jobs. While many criticized Obama for not taking a proactive enough role in leading the health care debate, it's likely that his strategy of leaving the lawmakers to duke it out will, in the end, result in passage of his No. 1 domestic priority. If it does, score one for the president.
· Israel: After getting off to an unnecessarily rocky start with Israel through his relentless focus on the settlements issue, Obama soon discovered what his predecessors have long known: Regardless of the approach, you can't impose peace on the Israelis and Palestinians. They have to want to make it happen themselves. So while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took what, for him, were profoundly painful steps -- declaring his support for a two-state solution and imposing the nation's first expanded settlement freeze -- his Palestinian counterpart didn't budge. While Obama's outreach to the Arab world was laudable, it has produced no results and, coupled with public pressure on Israel, it backfired. Only time will tell whether his administration can find a more constructive way to help get the parties back to the table. We are not optimistic.
· Iran: One year after the president urged Iran to "unclench its fist" -- and subsequently extended his deadline for the country to come clean -- Tehran remains on the path to obtaining nuclear capability. While once again, Obama's preference for carrots over sticks in curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions was laudable, this technique's time has passed. The administration must now use its international clout to pursue sanctions vigorously. Stringent sanctions are now likely the only way to prevent Iran from going nuclear on this president's watch.