Is the beginning of a President’s second term too early to begin talk about his place in history? I don’t think so. Its typically a good time to look back to evaluate failures, accomplishments, and everything in between.
In a completely different approach, The Economist, who endorsed Obama during the campaign, decided to look to the furture. His legacy depends on his ability to address three key issues, balancing the budget, China, and the Middle East. On the budget:
An America that cannot deal with its financial problems other than through repeated crises followed by shabby postponements will eventually go broke. And its capacity to offer leadership to the world is gravely diminished. Why should leaders in Beijing, Brasília, Bogotá or even Berlin see anything to emulate in Washington? If Mr Obama corrects this, he will be seen as a transformative figure. If not, future generations will look back on “the Bush-Obama years” as a time when two presidents stoked up a very foreseeable disaster.
On his foreign policy:
Xi Jinping has now been China’s leader for two months, yet Mr Obama has not seized the chance to see him (in Europe last year the new president of France rushed to visit the German chancellor the very day of his inauguration). Mr Xi will be around for the rest of Mr Obama’s time and for six years after he is gone, so frequent summits and many more bilateral meetings at all levels are essential. “Military-to-military co-operation” has languished and should be improved. A return to the close personal chemistry that existed between Bill Clinton and Jiang Zemin in the 1990s may be too much to hope for, but the chilly Mr Obama needs to strive towards it. He should spend less time playing golf and more in Zhongnanhai.
The final area where Mr Obama will be judged—and where he could make an enormous difference—is the Arab world. One looming, disastrous Obama legacy could be the death of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian mess (see article). As for the broader Arab spring, he may not be able to control it, but he can help direct it, in the same way that the older President Bush oversaw the end of the cold war. Syria is out of control. Countries like Egypt and Tunisia may be ruled by Islamists, but they are now democracies and desperate for financial help. If Mr Obama leaves behind a region of mini Turkeys, that would be a notable achievement. He cannot afford to appear as indifferent, or fearful of failure, towards so dangerous a region in his second term as he did in his first.
What do you think? How will history judge Barack Obama? Before you answer I’ll give you something to keep in mind: Harry Truman, now regarded as an above average President, was intensely hated during his administration. JFK, who was (and still is) intensely loved was far below average. President Obama is both hated and loved. Try to think objectively when you make your prediction.