Despite the predictable surprise at the announcement that the Nobel Peace Prize has gone to a Barack Obama, the prize seems to have given him a popularity boostâwith his approval ratings improving to 56 per cent, up from 50 per cent last month. Most commentaries in connection with the Nobel announcement have naturally focused on the rookie Presidentâs international policy stances, but it is on the domestic front that his failures are glaring. It is clear, for instance, that his attempt at reforming the US medical system has all but failed, though the requiem is still to be sung. Some key policy proposals have already been thrown out, and what remains also seems likely to be rejected by Congress. Non-Americans may find it hard to understand why the US finds it so difficult to reform a system that is obviously dysfunctional but, as in so many reform battles, the uncomplicated truth is that the lobby groups have won.
Matching this setback is the failure on the climate change front. Ostensibly, Mr Obama has been willing to engage the world on global warming, after President Clinton refused to ratify the Kyoto protocol and President Bush turned a Nelsonâs eye to the problem, but it is now clear that the US domestic legislation for a cap-and-trade system will not be in place before the Copenhagen meeting in December. In any case, the US and Europe got together at Bangkok over the last fortnight to virtually scuttle the Kyoto accord, a stage-setter that pretty much nukes the Copenhagen meeting before it starts.
The most important area for Indians to watch, however, will be Afghanistan. All reports suggest that the Taliban is gaining ground against the US and its allies, and the US commander has sought 40,000 additional troops, on top of the 60,000 that are already there. With President Karzai exposing himself as a poor version of a local puppet, and Taliban leader Mullah Omar signalling last month that a new Taliban-led government in Kabul would not play host to the al Qaeda, American public opinion could quite easily turn away from the war as one that is serving no purpose. Mr Obama might then find a way to do what Nixon-Kissinger did in Vietnamâdeclare victory and run. As it happens, Dr Kissinger got a Nobel for that.