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With billions of viewers around the world expected to tune in to the telecast of Barack Obamas inauguration,there is a sense that this is not just any old change of guard at the White House. Already,Obamas election as president of the United States has shown itself to be one of those rare transformative moments,events that set off intense political,economic,strategic and cultural interrogation. Everything about the world-as-it-is is reassessed. So,as Obama completes a Lincolnian trek to Washington,DC,as rockstars and political commentators jostle to get a measure of the inauguration,Tuesdays jamboree will give us a measure of the tenor we can expect from the new American presidency. Much of this has to do with the charisma and promise of Barack Obama,a man with the map of the world in his life story and a way of thoughtfully articulating an inclusiveness that can drive change. But the enthusiasm is equally derived from a reckoning that an era is at an end.
What then to make of the Bush presidency? He certainly may not be missed by his country,where even during the relative bipartisan amiability of a smooth transition his approval ratings have stayed dismally below 30 per cent. He leaves the US with two wars gone wayward,with a financial crisis that poses challenges to all economies,and with the next step of reconfiguring its foreign relations out of with-us-or-against-us choices. Bush has been emphatic that the longer gaze of history will be gentler than contemporaneous evaluations. In saying that,perhaps he seeks greater focus on the larger post-9/11 questions than on detail. Yet,that is precisely the lesson of the Bush years: that leadership cannot be just about presiding over grand themes and movements; it is equally about accountability on detail. This is why he lost a larger support for his wars. Iraqs defining image is not the pulling down of a Saddam statue,but the outrage of Abu Ghraib. And Guantanamo. Afghanistans aftermath contains not just the removal of the Taliban from Kabul,but also the blunders that allowed the militants to regroup in neighbouring Pakistan.
For India,of course,the Bush administration will be remembered for delivering on a long overdue reform in strategic ties and on the nuclear deal. Which is why the unease here in India over Washingtons refusal to call Pakistan properly to account after 26/11 can be nuanced with Prime Minister Manmohan Singhs statement of lavish affection for Bush this summer. The George W. years were marked by much upheaval and controversy but they also showed how much America matters.