Page last updated at 11:34 GMT, Wednesday, 29 April 2009 12:34 UK
Obama 'pleased, not satisfied'

Barack Obama

The BBC's team in Washington has been keeping a diary to monitor developments during US President Barack Obama's first 100 days in office.

Here, they answer questions from BBC News website readers about what the new administration has done so far, and what it may do in future, on subjects ranging from healthcare to relations with Cuba.

Will Obama prosecute torture decision makers from the Bush administration?
Nancy, Brooksville, Maine

Jonathan Beale

Jonathan Beale : While President Obama has not ruled out prosecuting Bush officials over the "torture" memos, it seems highly unlikely.

It is worth remembering that legal action by the American Civil Liberties Union forced the Obama administration's hand on this. When the memos were released Barack Obama made clear that he did not want to dwell on the past. He has told the CIA that none of those involved in the interrogations will face prosecution. The backlash to that decision seems to have fuelled a "wobble" in the White House. At one stage the administration appeared to rule out prosecuting Bush-era officials who had given the legal advice. Now it has left the question open.

The reality is that prosecutions of any kind will only make the issue more toxic for President Obama, alienate the intelligence agencies and divide the public. It will also prove hard to get convictions.

What is the new administration's objective in Afghanistan? How does the administration intend to deal with the threat of terrorism coming from neighbouring Pakistan?
Mike, Hong Kong

Adam Brookes

Adam Brookes : The Obama administration appears to have taken a much more pragmatic view of Afghanistan's future than the Bush administration.

Officials in the administration tell us privately that the aim is to prevent Afghanistan becoming a base for terrorist activity that threatens the United States, its allies or the region. Pragmatism seems to be the dominant mindset.

Does that mean that Afghanistan's democratic process is no longer of concern to America? No, but we should not expect the US to be shedding too many tears for Afghanistan's politicians.

"We need something that works in Kabul, just that," said one Washington insider.

As for Pakistan, nobody in Washington seems to know exactly how to change the direction of events there. There is an acute understanding stateside that America's levers in Pakistan are few.

There is, however, the hope that Pakistan's politicians and generals will start to realise the seriousness of their own situation and act for themselves, with American guns, money and muscle behind them.

What has he done to date to reduce the rising costs of healthcare premiums to individuals and families. Did he make attempts to limit pre-existing condition coverage implemented by insurance companies as a way to hide under the law. Can he help every child gain access to at least some form of universal healthcare?
Adina, Brooklyn, New York

James Coomarasamy

James Coomarasamy : President Obama does not miss an opportunity to explain that, in his view, reforming the US healthcare system - and reducing numbers of uninsured Americans - is a key component of long-term economic success.

In his budget proposal, he allocated $634bn for healthcare reform - and he convened a healthcare summit at the White House, attended by employers, unions, doctors and patients' groups - as well as insurance companies. It was a sign that he had learned the lessons of the Clinton Administration, which tried to impose a healthcare vision - thrashed out behind closed doors - on a reluctant Congress. The legislative process is still in its infancy, though.

Details of premiums and how insurance companies use pre-existing condition coverage are still to be worked out. So far, the president's only concrete achievement in healthcare has been to sign an extension of the S-CHIP bill, which extends health insurance for millions of children from middle income families.

I've heard there have been enormous difficulties filling treasury posts because of the extensive vetting conducted of candidates. Is it really that bad and has there been a rethink of how to go about recruitment?
Jude Kirkham, Vancouver Canada

Kevin Connolly

Kevin Connolly : Although all administrations take a long time to fill every slot on their team, there are good reasons to speculate that the Obama administration is having particular difficulties in filling public appointments.

The clearest sign of that is the length of time it has taken to find for example a new Surgeon-General - a glaring gap as panic over Swine Flu begins to spread.

There are several problems - among them the sheer weight of numbers of applicants for government service under Mr Obama. Around 350,000 initially asked about taking federal jobs - four times the level we saw when George W Bush was elected.

And, yes, the administration's determination to be ethically clean and to avoid embarrassment did produce an application process of wearing complexity. It involved a seven-page questionnaire with 63 questions, which asked applicants to list every handle or alias they had ever used on the internet and to declare whether or not they had ever kept a diary whose contents might prove embarrassing.

Add in a question about whether or not you or any immediate family member owns a gun and you can see why processing the resulting millions of answers would be a little cumbersome.

The appointment process was also hobbled by a string of high-profile failures, including the embarrassing manner in which Tom Daschle had to be dropped as candidate for Health and Human Services because he had not paid his taxes in full. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was lucky to survive a similar row, but three other candidates went the same way as Mr Daschle.

That goes to show how difficult the process can be. Surely Mr Obama was entitled to assume that Mr Daschle had paid his taxes in full - and yet it turned out to be one of the first acknowledged fumbles of his Presidency. (Remember "I screwed up..."?).

As the Swine Flu outbreak develops, we shall see if the process of weeding through those endless batches of applications is suddenly speeded up.

Do you think Obama will be strong enough to bring about peace in Middle East?
Ali, Jordan

Richard Lister

Richard Lister : Successive US Presidents have discovered that no matter how engaged they are in trying to foster peace in the Middle East, they cannot force the region's leaders to sign up to deals they do not want.

That said, they can bring new momentum to the process; engaging the leaders involved, refining the principles for agreement and arbitrating negotiations.

President Obama has made the Middle East a priority for his administration. He brings more flexibility to dealing with Iran - and possibly Syria too. His administration is still assessing the impact of the recent Israeli elections on any future process, and we will get a better sense of his approach once the Israeli and Palestinian leaders have come to the White House.

He does appear to have the personal toolkit required to broker a deal - a grasp of detail, determination to have a positive impact in the region, and minimal identification with any side. But he cannot sign a deal on his own.

After Obama's recent remarks, and the two Castros' responses, what now for the US-Cuba relations?
Esther Garcia, San Juan, Puerto Rico

Richard Lister

Richard Lister : US policy towards Cuba has been pretty much set in stone since the imposition of the trade embargo in 1962.

But a number of factors have changed recently. The younger generation of Cuban-Americans is far more disposed to developing relations with Cuba, and the removal of Fidel Castro from (formal) power has made it easier for the US to consider new strategies.

President Obama has responded to those changes by making it easier for Cuban-Americans to send money to the island, and travel there. The State Department says US and Cuban diplomats are discussing follow-up measures, but the White House has made clear that it expects to Havana take the next steps.

Washington wants to see more political freedom in Cuba, and unless the leadership makes significant changes, Congress will not be willing to lift the trade embargo. That said, the Obama administration seems committed to maintaining dialogue with the regime for now at least.

There is a worry here that our president is too much of a celebrity and that he has no time to think of constructive solutions to our problems because he needs to appear on TV every day. Would you agree?
Kuma, New York city

Rajini Vaidyanathan

Rajini Vaidyanathan : Whether or not he has styled himself as such, Barack Obama IS a celebrity politician. He is one of the most photographed and written-about people in the entire world. The hysteria around him can be likened to that of a celebrity. Wherever he goes, crowds turn up to see him speak. His name and face are used to sell T-shirts, badges and magazines.

But is this attention distracting Mr Obama from the job in hand?

Although he does appear on TV in the US on a regular basis, most of these appearances are on news channels and are related to politics and policy, be it a prime time news conference or a bill signing in the Oval Office.

That said, he has also appeared on some entertainment shows - not the usual territory for presidents.

Mr Obama was the first commander-in-chief to appear on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. This was part of a media strategy to sell the president's policies. He spent a large chunk of his time with Mr Leno discussing his handling of the economy, the biggest domestic political challenge he is working on.

By appearing on a show like this, he was able to reach Americans who might not have seen him on the rolling news channels. This was a very calculated media strategy.

The president has also hosted several celebrities in the White House, including the singer, Usher, and the film star, Brad Pitt.

Both were there to meet him to talk about causes they felt strongly about, and the President would argue he was meeting them not because of their star appeal but because of the projects they were promoting.

I would like to ask why Justin Webb - or any of the other BBC correspondents in the United States - have failed to secure an interview with Mr Obama. His election is the single most important political event in my lifetime (I'm 53) and it is of the utmost public interest to have a substantial interview with Mr Obama on the BBC. As a licence fee payer, I am saddened that this has not happened: can anyone explain why? Have you asked - and if so, what was the response?
John Harvey, England

Max Deveson

Max Deveson : Simon Wilson, the BBC's Washington bureau chief, passes on the following response:

"We have been in regular contact with the White House since President Obama was elected about securing an interview with him for the BBC.

"We too believe it would be of high interest to BBC audiences in Britain and around the world. The White House press team have acknowledged our bid and we have been encouraged by their positive reaction.

"Clearly, so far it has not happened. But President Obama has done very few broadcast interviews with non-American news organisations - only Al-Arabiya and Canadian TV in the first 100 days - so we are not overly disheartened.

"We remain hopeful and confident that the BBC will have the chance to interview President Obama in the months ahead."

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