Less than a week into his presidency, Barack Obama is working on keeping campaign promises.
However, Michael Kanner, a political science professor at CU, says that Obama’s next moves in the way of foreign relations will be unpredictable.
“Although candidates campaign on foreign policy to differentiate themselves from their opponents, once in office, they find that external factors and events drive the agenda,” Kanner said.
Obama signed executive orders Thursday to shut down the Guantánamo detention camp in Cuba within a year. The main concern with this move is the disposition of the current prisoners, according to Kanner.
“While (Obama) signed the order saying he would close the facility in a year, there were no plans on what to do with the prisoners,” Kanner said.
The orders require a review of the 245 detainees held at Guantánamo, or “Gitmo”, to determine if they should be moved, released or prosecuted.
Kanner also suggests that Obama’s commitment to closing Guantánamo is risky.
“This was a major point in his campaign and this could be seen as him paying campaign debts to the liberal wing of the party,” Kanner said. “However, this has the potential of being politically costly.”
Nigel Wallingford, a freshman ecology and evolutionary biology major, said he agrees.
“I think (Obama is) still trying to cater to the groups that got him elected,” Wallingford said. “I think he’s trying to seem like he’s doing a lot, like closing Guantánamo Bay, but it isn’t really going to make a difference.”
Besides closing Guantánamo, Kanner, who specializes in American foreign policy, says there is little to be excited about during Obama’s first week in action.
“With the exception of Gitmo, you have not seen much this first week in terms of foreign policy,” Kanner said. “The promise to have the majority of troops out of Iraq by 2011 is in line with the agreement that the Bush Administration has with the Iraqis. As Charles Krautheimer pointed out, there is not much difference between the two administrations on a number of these issues.”
In terms of environmental policy, Jim White, professor of geological and environmental studies, remains positive about the newly elected commander in chief.
“Given what we heard in his campaign and his inauguration speech, I was very encouraged,” White said. “I expect there to be a much stronger emphasis on what the scientific consensus is.”
Obama, who selected Nobel Laureate scientist Steven Chu as his Secretary of Energy, has inspired hope in the heart of the scientific world.
“He’s going to listen to scientists,” White said. “What’s important is that the information that scientists have to offer is incorporated into the decision making processes. All the indications I see give me hope that what scientists have to say will be valued.”
However, White says it is too early to judge or predict the Obama administration’s actions.
“A week is not enough time to judge any president,” White said. “The direction being taken by the Obama administration now is one that I would applaud.”
Nick Caiazza, a sophomore film and multicultural studies major, said he hopes the Obama administration will focus on many more topics.
“He always talked about the education system, the economy and the environment,” Caiazza said. “Those are the three things he talked about. He has to follow through on those.”
Caiazza also says that the country cannot expect all the solutions to come from one man.
“We can’t put it all on him,” Caiazza said. “We have to get involved. We have to take some part in this, too.”
Published to CUIndependent.com on 1/27/09.