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B-Day arrives

Today Barack Obama will be inaugurated as president of America.

Read time 4min 30sec

Today is B-Day. Barack Day. The day Barack Obama takes over the world. I mean, America. But sort of the world, or at least the Westernised part of it.

You can't help but feel sorry for the guy. Remember when Dubbya became president (twice)? There were no concerts, no inauguration parties around the world, no custom-made pendants being sold all the way across in Johannesburg. The only Bush t-shirts I ever saw were pretty rude. In fact, in all eight years of his stint at the helm I never once met anyone who had actually voted for him.

But I know plenty who voted for Obama and if I could, that's who I'd vote for as the next president of South Africa.

Before we all get too carried away with Obama-mania, we need to have a more sober look at what it is this guy will really be able to achieve. Starting at the top, he's probably not the second coming of Christ. In which case he doesn't have divine powers, in which case he'll have to take the human approach to sorting out problems in the US.

And boy, does he have problem s to sort out. A dead dog of a housing market, banks that still won't lend to each other, financial institutions on the edge of bankruptcy, a recession, endless wars in the Middle East, global warming, rising unemployment, and a whole lot of people with bombs who particularly hate his country.

Remember to duck

Further, he lives in a nation where progressive presidents tend to get shot. But going back to the hype about Obama - the hype suggests he is indeed a saviour of some sort and yet he hasn't spent one day in office. The hype sets him up to fail. If the start of his presidency had been a little less star-struck, he would have been able to spend four years achieving his goals and earning the accolades.

The hype suggests he [Barack Obama] is indeed a saviour of some sort and yet he hasn't spent one day in office.

Ren'ee Bonorchis, editor at large, Business Day

Unfortunately a lot of what he has to fix relies on market forces. Sure, he wants to keep throwing money into the financial system, but from what we've seen in the past year, the enormous stimulus packages haven't always helped. Stock markets still plummeted and banks still wouldn't lend. The key to confidence has still not been found and I'm not so sure that Obama himself is the key either.

But markets do rebound, and in the next four years US markets should swing upwards once more, no matter who is in the Oval Office. As for troops in Iraq, yes, Obama can make the decision to start the withdrawal, but that will just lead to increased civil violence in Iraq and America will be blamed.

Looking at Gaza - a lot of people seem to think the US could make a difference, but I'm not so sure. When two countries appear determined to blow the hell out of each other, third-party interventions just seem to make things messier still.

Decisions, decisions

Obama could sign the Kyoto protocol and finally increase his country's commitment to climate issues, but he will no doubt have kick-back from Congress, and steering the US in the right direction is going to be incredibly difficult, particularly because it's in the midst of a recession where financial issues are a lot more pressing.

And terrorism won't come to an end any time soon. It would seem Osama bin Laden and his cronies in the Middle East don't care what colour the US president is and don't care whether or not he comes across as a thoroughly likable guy - their recent statements suggest they are as determined as ever to bring America to its knees.

Then there's foreign policy - trying to convince the US-haters who are not hiding in remote mountain ranges that they should stop making nukes and play nice. But until America starts getting rid of its own nukes, its words on this matter will always be disingenuous. And as far as I know, Obama has never intimated the US will disarm. Look, with Russia now getting a bit crazy again and Vladimir Putin still pulling the puppet strings, there are reasons to be worried. But I can't imagine Obama would ever give the order to wipe out hundreds of thousands of mostly innocent people in order to pull Russia into line.

Of course, Obama also has other issues to deal with at home, such as gay marriage, abortion, gun laws, health issues, taxes, hurricane protection and the Ku Klux Klan.

It's not going to be an easy ride. If he achieves even half of what he's set out to do, he'll be doing well. The trouble is that he's already been set up as the answer to everything.

* Ren'ee Bonorchis is Business Day's editor at large.

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