US Question: What Was Obama’s Greatest Success?

With his family by his side, Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th president of the United States by Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts Jr. in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2009. More than 5,000 men and women in uniform are providing military ceremonial support to the presidential inauguration, a tradition dating back to George Washington's 1789 inauguration. (DoD photo by Master Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo, U.S. Air Force/Released)

PHOTO: Barack Obama takes the oath of office, January 2009

On Monday, we posted an analysis of President Obama’s greatest failure — likely to be his “destiny” — with his approach to the Syrian conflict.

See Syria Special: Obama’s Destiny

I was asked by readers of The Question to balance that assessment with thoughts about Obama’s greatest success:

I think there’s a real success in terms of stabilizing the economy. But how do you distill that in an America where there’s lots of people who are still feeling like they haven’t benefited from the recovery? I think there is a lot to be said for getting some kind of healthcare package through, but that healthcare package is still imperfect to say the least, and there are real issues regarding cost and coverage that will have to be dealt with.

Same-sex marriage is going to be a major, major change. It’s one that Obama can’t directly claim credit for, but it’s the kind of thing that happens when you change a culture. He provided that opening for hope, and for America to confront the need to fulfil its values.

So if there is one success, it goes all the way back to 2009, which is providing an alternative vision for America, and of America as it wants to be seen. I remember in January 2009, watching the inaugural speech – that whole day, actually – and thinking ‘I can’t believe I’m seeing this, I never thought I would see this’. I grew up in Alabama, and the idea that an African-American would become president, and would be hailed as such by – what? – a million and a half people in The Mall in Washington DC, and would provide such a contrast to the preceding administration, in terms of presenting hope, rather than fear. . . that was huge.

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Scott Lucas is Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham and editor-in-chief of EA WorldView. He is a specialist in US and British foreign policy and international relations, especially the Middle East and Iran. Formerly he worked as a journalist in the US, writing for newspapers including the Guardian and The Independent and was an essayist for The New Statesman before he founded EA WorldView in November 2008.


  1. Obamacare is definitely a small step forward, but the new administration may try to wind it back. The health insurance companies will fight hard to keep their profits.
    I would say Cuba is a real success. He ended a nonsense there.

  2. It’s like asking what was Hitler’s greatest success? Well, at least he got the trains running on time …
    Obama was an out and out criminal, both domestically and abroad … so ‘success’ does not enter into it, unless one is seeking to deflect from the necessity of his prosecution.

  3. Scott, in this world there is no such a thing as absolute domestic or international. Doesn’t interference of Putin in the election prove that?
    But your question is a tricky one on several fronts, and I don’t think there is any straight success or failure stories.
    -Obama didn’t enter or start any wars, that can be counted as success
    -Obama sat on his hands indecisive on so many things, that will prove what it was but likely a failure
    -Obamacare, sort of success, it is a step forward
    -Economy is success, although not all of that credit goes to him
    -Race relations, I can only judge from a distance, I don’t see any positive steps
    -Foreign relations, mixed, improved relations with first world(after Bush era), much worst relations with 2nd and 3rd world

    • Obama didn’t enter or start any wars” — Are you joking? What do you call the destruction of Libya, Syria and Yemen then, just his pastimes?

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