Page last updated at 18:17 GMT, Tuesday, 31 March 2009 19:17 UK

Obama diary: Days 61-70

Barack Obama was elected on a message of change. Now he is in office, change is expected both in foreign and domestic policy. Here the BBC's team in Washington tracks developments in the first 100 days of the Obama presidency.


1740 EST Changing attitude to Zimbabwe

Kim Ghattas

Kim Ghattas : Last year, the US attitude to Robert Mugabe was tough.

I just interviewed the US ambassador to Harare and found a very different tone. James McGee said the thinking in Washington had evolved since the formation of a unity government which brought in opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

McGee said the government in Harare was still imperfect, but that change was starting to be felt. The finance minister, Tendai Biti, from Tsvangirai's MDC party, was taking essential steps to undo years of damage, he said. Both parties were looking to the next election in two years time, he added.

And he seemed to suggest that humanitarian aid might be targeted to boost Mr Tsvangirai's popularity.

But Mr Mugabe might also see an incentive in working to improve things, he said.

"Mugabe does need to start thinking about his legacy... he can easily just take a few steps that can lead to very positive changes inside Zimbabwe and lead him back to the position that he once occupied as the most enlightened leader on the African continent."

So clearly, no more calls for Mugabe's resignation, but McGee also said the political and human rights situation was nowhere near what was required to lift sanctions.

1004 EST The mood in Detroit

Richard Lister

Richard Lister : I'm in Detroit, and the cold and grey weather here is an accurate reflection of the mood, as people wake up to the idea that their industrial landscape has changed again. By firing GM chief Rick Wagoner, President Obama has swept aside one of the pillars of the car industry here.

Mr Wagoner was a GM veteran, so on local talk shows his resignation was met with some incredulity that he could be forced out by Washington, with one caller insisting he was the victim of and not the creator of the global recession.

In rural Michigan there is a deep-set conservatism that instinctively dislikes this level of government intervention.

But there is mounting nervousness too. Mr Wagoner had already pledged to cut a fifth of GM's global workforce and close 14 factories. By forcing him to go, President Obama is clearly saying: that's not enough.


1232 EST Afghan plans revealed

James Coomarasamy

James Coomarasamy : President Obama has outlined the new strategy that the US intends to pursue in Afghanistan.

He said he had a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan - and prevent their return to either country in the future.

He said al-Qaeda was actively planning attacks on US soil from its safe haven in Pakistan - and, raising the spectre of a return to Taliban rule in Afghanistan, he described the situation in the region as increasingly perilous.

Mr Obama announced he was shifting the emphasis of the US mission to training the Afghan security forces - and that he was sending 4,000 extra troops to do so.

He also called for a stepping up of international civilian efforts - and the establishment a regional contact group, including Russia, China, India... and Iran.


1332 EST Obama's "virtual town hall"

Jon Donnison

Jon Donnison : President Obama has been taking his message to the internet today in what he's calling the first ever presidential "online town hall meeting".

Over 90,000 people submitted questions to the White House, with the President answering some of them in a live webcast.

Over the past week, Barack Obama has been speaking to the nation by all manner of mediums.

It began with the first ever presidential chat show appearance, then a primetime televised press conference, and today he has turned to the web.

Visitors to the White House website were able to vote on which of the tens of thousands of questions submitted they wanted the President to answer. The theme was supposed to be the economy, but the questions - some of them posted in video form - were wide-ranging.

Questioners asked Mr Obama about job losses, healthcare reform and education policy.

The President was also pressed to address an issue perhaps not right at the top of his inbox - the legalisation of marijuana.

Indeed, legalising the drug was the subject of many of the most popular questions submitted to the site.

"I don't know what this says about the online audience," he joked.

That audience, though, is just another key one that President Obama has managed to speak to this week in an effort to get his message across.

Never before has the American public had such a variety of means to tune in to the nation's Commander-in-Chief.

1206 EST Geithner's regulation plans

James Coomarasamy

James Coomarasamy : Timothy Geithner has been outlining plans for widespread changes in the way that government regulates the financial system. At a congressional hearing, he said the US economy had failed in basic, fundamental ways - and that the government had come into the current crisis without the tools to manage it effectively.

There couldn't be modest repairs at the margin, he argued, but there had to be "new rules of the game"; a new regulatory framework that would - in the future - allow the government to step in and reduce the systemic risk to the economy posed by failing non-bank institutions (such as the insurance giant AIG).

His proposal - which would need Congressional approval - will form the basis of global discussions at next week's G20 summit in London.


1800 EST Hill grilled on the Hill

Kim Ghattas

Kim Ghattas : He speaks Polish, he's been ambassador to South Korea, helped negotiate an end to the Balkans conflict and shuttled from Washington to Pyong Yang for three years, working on a denuclearisation deal with North Korea.

Christopher Hill has a weighty CV, but does it prepare him for his next posting - as the US ambassador in Iraq?

He testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today.

His lack of Middle East credentials has been highlighted by senators like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who oppose his nomination. But committee chairman John Kerry said Mr Hill was the right person for Iraq, and the diplomat has also been endorsed by the top Republican on the committee, Richard Lugar.

With their questions, they allowed Mr Hill to focus on his strong points - his experience in the fractured Balkans would allow him to navigate Iraq's sectarian society and support efforts to build up its civilian government structure. And his work in North Korea, which required coordination with regional allies, would help him support Iraq's efforts to normalise ties with its neighbours.

1745 EST Reporters also need prompting

The BBC's North America Editor Justin Webb reveals that one of the journalists at last night's presidential press conference had written out his question in advance as an aide memoire - it seems that the President is not the only one who relies on written prompts when speaking in public...

1212 EST Mexican trip

Kim Ghattas

Kim Ghattas : Hillary Clinton is meeting Mexican President Felipe Calderon and her counterpart, Patrica Espinosa, today. More high-level visits will take place in the coming weeks.

It's a sign of how worried Washington is about the crisis next door, as drug gangs wreak havoc in Mexico and violence spills over into the US.

The foreign challenge touches on thorny domestic issues, like trade, immigration and gun control .

A senior State Department official said the two countries had a shared responsibility to solve the problem, which is fuelled by supply and demand across the border - the drug cartels rely on US demand for drugs, while guns flow from the US into Mexico.

The official also said Washington wanted a comprehensive engagement with Mexico and didn't want the relationship to be defined by the drug violence.

The issue will be high on Mrs Clinton's agenda but she will also meet art students in Mexico City and hold a town-hall meeting in Monterey.

The State Department said it was important to remember that Mexico was a large and vibrant democracy. Mexicans will be pleased to hear that. Many have protested at the depiction of their country as a failed state .

1111 EST No more GWOT?

Jon Donnison

Jon Donnison : In a city where the list of acronyms is endless, it seems the GWOT (or Global War on Terror) is out... and the OCO (or Overseas Contingency Operation) is in.

According to a leaked Pentagon memo, OCO is the new less-than-catchy term that the administration should use to characterise America's fight against extremism around the world. A Pentagon official denies there is any specific change in policy, but many political observers here say GWOT has already all but disappeared from the Obama team's lexicon.

Last month, the human rights group the International Commission of Jurists urged the new government to stop using the phrase "Global War on Terror", saying it gave "spurious justification to a range of human rights violations".

The less-explicit OCO is unlikely to prove quite as controversial - or indeed memorable...


1640 EST Nationalisation still on the table?

Max Deveson

Max Deveson : The news that the administration may ask Congress for new powers to take over ailing non-bank financial firms (like AIG) prompts Mother Jones magazine's Kevin Drum to make an observation .

If, three months ago, the White House had set out to make the nationalisation of big banks politically and legally possible, its actions would have looked very similar to what it has, in actual fact, been doing...

1502 EST Press conference thoughts

In his blog, the BBC's North America Editor Justin Webb looks ahead to President Obama's prime time news conference this evening, and gives his readers a sneak preview of the question that he will ask if called.


1226 EST Assets plan unveiled

James Coomarasamy

James Coomarasamy : Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has unveiled his plan to help resolve America's banking crisis.

Under the plan, the US Treasury would contribute up to $100bn of public money already assigned to bailing out the banks in order to buy out the toxic assets which are now on their books and which are still dissuading them from lending.

That money would be supplemented in part by the private sector, which would also be involved in valuing those assets.

Announcing the public-private investment program, the increasingly embattled Mr Geithner said the plan would involve private investors sharing the risks and the profits with the taxpayer.

Print Sponsor

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2019 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific