Barack Hussein Obama (1961-) is the 44th President of the United States. He is the first African American to hold the office and also the first American President born outside the continental United States. Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, Obama is a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School. Obama worked as a community organizer in Chicago before earning his law degree. He later worked as a civil rights attorney and taught Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago Law School between 1992 and 2004. While serving three terms representing the 13th District in the Illinois Senate from 1997 to 2004, he ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary for the United States House of Representatives in 2000 against incumbent Bobby Rush. In 2004, Obama received national attention during his campaign to represent Illinois in the United States Senate with his victory in the March Democratic Party primary, his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in July and his election to the Senate in November. He began his Presidential campaign in 2007, and after a close primary campaign against Hillary Clinton in 2008, he won sufficient delegates in the Democratic Party primaries to receive the Presidential nomination. He then defeated Republican nominee John McCain in the general election and was inaugurated as President on January 20, 2009. Nine months after his inauguration, Obama was controversially named the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Obama was reelected President in November 2012, defeating the Republican nominee Mitt Romney and was sworn in for a second term on January 20, 2013. Nowadays, Obama is spending his last days in the office as the US President. So, it might be a good time to assess Obama’s success and failures and rate his Presidency.
Before getting into details, it might be helpful to us to look at the current approval ratings of Obama as American President around the world. First of all, I should mention that Obama is still approved by 52 % people in the U.S., which shows that he is perceived as a successful President by more than the half of American citizens and he still enjoys a greater popularity compared to current Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. This shows that replacing Obama will not be easy for USA and “maximum 2 terms and 8 years” formula could be too short for a President to terminate his plans even in a democratic system. January 2009 was the most successful month of Obama during which he enjoyed 67 % approval, whereas November 2014 was his most unfortunate month during which his popularity fell to 40 %.
Obama’s popularity in the world
As seen above, Pew Research’s findings are very positive about the perception of Obama’s Presidency around the world. Looking at the statistics coming from 40 different countries, Obama has an average of 65 % approval around the world, which shows that he is supported and approved by the rest of the world and he is even more popular in the world compared to his native country. Only 27 % of the respondents stated that they distrust Obama, which indicates that Obama successfully created a trustworthy image for himself and his country by his deeds and policies. The countries where Obama enjoys most popularity are; Philippines (94 %), South Korea (88 %), France (83 %), Ghana (82 %), Australia (81 %), Kenya (80 %), Tanzania (78 %), Italy (77 %), South Africa (77 %), Senegal (77 %), United Kingdom (76 %), Canada (76 %), India (74 %) and Vietnam (71 %). The countries where Obama is not so popular on the other hand are; Russia (11 %), Pakistan (14 %), Jordan (14 %), Palestine (15 %), Venezuela (26 %), Lebanon (36 %) and Argentina (40 %). Obama achieved to enjoy 44-45 % popularity in countries like Turkey and China, which were strongly anti-American just few years ago. Obama, as the first African American President, enjoyed a previously unseen popularity in African countries. In Asian countries also, he was able to increase American power. He kept his popularity solid and strong in Europe. However, Obama was not able to prevent his popularity falling from 70 % to 49 % in Israel, a close and important US ally in the Middle East, probably due to his peace efforts concerning Israel-Palestine conflict. He also became a very unpopular figure in Russia, a strong international actor, which created serious problems for American Foreign Policy initiatives in many countries including primarily Syria and Ukraine. However, in general, results prove that Obama is perceived as a successful and trustworthy President in the world.
Economic performances of major advanced nations following the 2008 global economic crisis
Looking at the economic performance, we can clearly say that Obama was a very successful President. It should not be forgotten that Obama took the American economy in ruins from George W. Bush government due to devastating effects of 2008 global economic crisis as well as high American military spendings in Iraq. In 8 years, he achieved to reduce unemployment rates from 10 % to 5 % and decreased social problems in the US. He was also able to create 2 % average economic growth rate; which is a very good average for a giant economy like USA. In addition, Obama designed and signed important international trade agreements like TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) and TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), which could turn into crucial steps in next few years to come in global economy.
Obama’s most controversial legacy will be his foreign policy. In fact, Obama worked with two important statesmen Hillary Clinton and John Kerry as his Secretaries of State and engaged in many successful foreign policy initiatives. For instance, his “Pivot to Asia” was a major success; since US became a leading actor in that region following the quick rise of China in recent decades. American power in many Asian countries including India, Philippines, Taiwan, Japan, Myanmar, Vietnam and South Korea increased thanks to Obama’s efforts. In that sense, one can claim that Obama successfully balanced the rise of China in the region. We can also claim that Obama was the first Asia-Pacific oriented American President especially with his deeds in his second term. In fact, concerning his foreign policy, Obama’s first term was Middle East oriented and his second term was Asia-Pacific oriented. In Middle East, Obama administration brought a new vision, “moderate Islam”, backed up by Muslim Brotherhoods movements in the region. This model sought a transition in the Islamic/Arab world with Turkey becoming a “model country” for the Arab nations in creating a new wave of Islamism that is compatible with democracy and secularism. Thus, Turkey and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan became a key ally for Obama administration. In the first few years, this model worked with very high success and during the Arab Spring, a new democratic and Islamic model of governance was created in many countries including Tunisia and Egypt in addition to already democratic and secular Turkey. However, Arab Spring caused civil wars and bloodshed in Syria, Libya and Iraq. Moreover, in Egypt it led to growing concerns for the protection of secularism and Christian minority as well as Egypt-Israel relations. Finally, Egypt had a military coup and Arab Spring’s democratization wave stopped. Only Tunisia was able to protect its newly flourishing democracy; but nearly in all countries in the region (including even the only secular democratic regional actor Turkey), democratic progress was quickly reversed. The emergence of ISIS on the other hand brought a completely new vision to the region; clearly more security-oriented and less democratic in nature. Obama administration’s policy concerning Middle East was not realistic and too naïve; expecting a democratic transition in economically underdeveloped and socially fragile Arab countries was not a clever plan. However, it was also a fact that decades old dictatorships of Bin Ali, Kaddafi and Mubarak were not very powerful and Obama did not have any other alternative but supporting people. He had to choose either democracy or dictatorship; as the President of a democratic country, he supported popular movements. But the socioeconomic realities of the region and Russia and Iran’s counter moves disrupted US plans. Turkey’s failure in creating an efficient model for Muslim democracies also was a major problem for Obama administration. Thus, today, Middle East is even more problematic than pre-Obama period and security risks are higher against American allies in the region such as Israel and Turkey. However, Obama was able to solve the Iranian nuclear programme crisis with a peaceful agreement that prevented a major war to emerge in the region. Thus, we should not assess his Middle East policy as a complete failure. But other than this, Obama was not able to find a solution to major and historical disagreements (Israel-Palestine conflict, Kashmir conflict, Cyprus Dispute, Nagorno-Karabakh Dispute). Thus, his foreign policy grade is not very high. Rapprochment with Cuba might also be a major success in the future if USA will be able to democratize this country.
Obama was probably the most successful American President concerning image-building and “soft power”. He was a good role model as a father and a husband and he created a personal sympathy and popularity that also helped American state to realize its aims. He was praised by many different segments and people; his admirers ranged from Pope Franciscus to Muslim preachers and from NBA stars to crazy Hollywood celebrities. This was a proof of Obama’s charisma that went beyond existing stereotypes. Obama’s interest in basketball and jazz music also helped him in reaching Americans and pro-American nations in the world. More importantly, Obama was a star for the international media and he always achieved to be on the cover page with his deeds and declarations. He used soft power instruments and social media very well in image-building and created a positive image for his fellow Americans with his own personal popularity and charisma. He became the most unforgettable American President since John F. Kennedy -with the possible exception of Ronald Reagan-.
Obama’s deeds in terms of the integration of African Americans and other socially disadvantaged groups to the system also were not very successful although he worked hard on these issues. Although he has himself African American identity, he was not able to stop police violence against African Americans. His wife, first-lady Michelle Obama encouraged educational activities in US and in the world and left a good legacy. But these efforts were not enough to solve racial problems United States face. In recent months, African Americans’ reactions and accusations against the American state are on the rise. This shows that Obama did not solve this problem completely.
In addition to this, Obama’s “gun reform” project was also a failure and it showed that even the US President has his/her limits in changing the American system. Thus, United States is known as a country of violence and Americans witness each year several armed clashes. In fact, the number of Americans who died in armed clashes and due to homicides are much more than American soldiers died in wars.
Finally, if we have to assess Barack Obama’s Presidency, I think he was a very successful President concerning economy, image-building and popularity. His foreign policy was not successful due to the failure of the Arab Spring, but his “Pivot to Asia” and international economic agreements might be seen as important steps for the American economy in the future. Obama was not very successful in solving racial issues in USA as well as the gun reform. But still, in total, he was a good, respected and successful President and the next American President will have great difficulty in replacing a popular President like Obama.
Dr. Ozan ÖRMECİ
 Nowadays, Presidential candidate Donald Trump is also trying to do the same. But Obama achieved this with positive campaigning and libertarian views, whereas Trump sometimes acts as a role model “bad guy”.