What will be the legacy of President Obama?
Barack Obama secured a second term from American voters. His party was able to hang on to its majority in the Senate but could not win back the House of Representatives from the Republican majority. Due to the global reach of the U.S., the election results were important for most people around the world. Though the results were not a foregone conclusion, the clear choice of the world was for Obama to continue.
As usual for the American election, and indeed for most elections the world over, the main determinant was economy. Both candidates tried to convince voters that their economic policies would be more beneficial. Obama, coming slightly from the left, believes in the common welfare of the people. He implemented healthcare reform, tried to overcome societal inequalities and promised better economic performance.
The new term for President Obama will be difficult both domestically – due to widespread polarization of the country – and globally, because of many problems that have become entrenched over the years.
Domestically, the attitude of the Republican majority in the House will be crucial. If they continue to oppose his reforms, Obama might face an increasingly difficult home front. Internationally, Romney’s statements such as, “It is the responsibility of our president to use America’s great power to shape history, not to lead from behind” came rather too close to George W. Bush’s hawkish stance on foreign policy after 9/11. Obama’s record on dialogue and cooperation, though it has not brought spectacular results, improved America’s standing in most of the world except for a few countries, such as Turkey. His balanced policies toward China, Russia and Iran have been noted.
However, Obama will face considerable challenges in his new term. The most important question will be about his legacy as president. American presidents are elected because of their domestic policy stances, especially regarding the economy, but they are remembered, if at all, because of their successes or failures in international affairs. Most second term presidents, benefiting from the freedom that comes with not standing for re-election, strive to put their stamp on history. President Ronald Reagan, for example, is remembered for his role in ending the Cold War, Jimmy Carter for his role in the Iran hostage crisis and Bush junior for the 9/11 attacks and occupation of Iraq. Obama has yet to take a stance to be remembered for.
Syria and Iran will be litmus tests for his polices. He clearly does not favor American boots on the ground in Syria and is not happy about the Syrian National Council. Yet some sort of a no-fly zone along Turkish and Jordanian borders and a shift in American support for different opposition groups might be expected. In Iran, he favors a policy of sanctions accompanied by (in)direct negotiations to convince the regime to give up its nuclear ambitions. While he has been supporting a diplomatic solution, he also pledged to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, indicating his determination to use the military when push comes to shove. What could be the real legacy for Obama, however, is his stance on the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is here that he failed – rather, avoided – to do anything in his first term. This is where, if successful, he would be remembered for his contribution to world peace and prove himself as a world leader rather than only an American president. This might win him a Nobel Peace Prize, too.