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Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Assertive Obama brags of economic turnaround ahead of India visit........

WASHINGTON:If New Delhi is looking for a message from US President Barack Obama ahead of his trip to India this weekend, this is what came from his state of the union address on Monday night: It will be a confident and assertive US president that will arrive in India on Sunday, even if some pundits consider him a lame duck.

Buoyed by a resurgent economy and relieved by the drawdown from conventional overseas wars, Obama told Americans that the ''shadow of crisis'' that had dogged America since 9/11 has passed and ''a greater future is ours to write.'' With no more campaigns to run by his own admission, Obama unveiled a raft of proposals, aimed primarily at helping middle class Americans, from tax breaks to free college to higher wages, all of which will burnish his liberal credentials from a legacy perspective, now that he has no more elections to win.

If only he had said and done all this before the mid-term election, sighed one CNN talking head after the hour-long address that was arguably the most upbeat of all his ''SOTU'' speeches. It was constructed on the back of an economic turnaround in what the US president described as a ''breakthrough year'' that has seen more job creation, and an upbeat national mood from lower gas prices and soldiers returning home even as US ramps up its economic engagement across the world.

(AP Photo)
Of course, few Americans are even aware that the president will be winging it to New Delhi on Saturday to be chief guest at the Republic Day - and a side trip to Agra with the First Lady to see the Taj Mahal. In fact, some analysts have pilloried it as a totally unnecessary foreign trip. India did not even get a mention in his speech (China, Russia, Iran, Afghanistan, Cuba and some other usual suspects did in keeping with the American dictum that "squeaky wheels get the grease.")

But the US president's assertions on free trade, growing US exports, and climate change, among other issues, make it clear that he'll do some serious business in India to advance US economic interests amid all the geo-strategic sizing up and tweaking. Typically, American presidents embark on a US tour soon after SOTU to sell their proposals, but Obama, exceptionally, will be milking business abroad too, because, he explained, other countries have caught up and ''we need to up our game.''

While acknowledging that the free trade policies had not necessarily worked always to US advantage, Obama nevertheless sought trade promotion authority from Congress, arguing, ''95 per cent US customers live outside our borders.'' He also sought authorization from Congress for use of force against ISIS, warning that America will hunt down terrorists and ''we reserve the right to act unilaterally to take down any terrorists who pose harm to the United States.''

The US president is traveling to Idaho and Kansas on Wednesday to talk up his SOTU proposals before returning to Washington DC on Thursday ahead of his India visit. Current indications are that First Lady Michelle Obama will accompany him, but not their children Malia and Sasha.

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