Posted by: Jeff | November 4, 2009

Happy Anniversary, American Electorate

(updated below)

A year ago tonight, Barack Obama stood on a stage in Chicago’s Grant Park to claim victory in the 2008 presidential election.  The atmosphere was electric, the excitement was palpable, and the expectations for his presidency were very high.

President-Elect Barack Obama in Grant Park

A year removed, that feeling has subsided substantially.  Many of the promises of the campaign remain unfulfilled, leading some to question the President’s commitment to getting things done.  While a drawdown is underway in Iraq, the American involvement in Afghanistan seems more protracted and prolonged than ever.  Health care reform has become a wedge issue polarizing American citizens and poisoning our political civility.  After a few initial overtures, little has been done about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and Guantanamo Bay.

It’s true that there have not been any monumental pieces of legislation signed into law or any peace agreements shook upon.  Yes, the Obama presidency thus far has been rather dull.  This has led to growing disillusionment and disappointment.  But where others may be concerned, I am still cautiously optimistic about this presidency.

The political climate in Washington has changed considerably under the new Administration.  The White House has launched a number of transparency initiatives that mark a noticeable departure from the Plame-gate days of Bush II.  The Justice Department has got back to the rule of law and away from pushing political agendas.  But most importantly, the stance the United States has adopted in regard to the rest of the world has changed drastically.

The Bush Administration made a few friends (NOTE: Kenya in 2007) and many enemies through it’s aggressive assertion of a moral agenda into foreign policy.  The Obama presidency has thus far been one of overtures to allies past and potential.  The result has been a significant increase in both goodwill toward the United States abroad and soft power that the United States is able to leverage in forging partnerships and isolating threats.

Global attitudes toward the United States are shifting.  We are once again viewed as a legitimate and responsible actor that views stability and cooperation as international ideals.  This systemic shift in attitudes is our best weapon against agents of terror and chaos – a world that views the United States as moral and just is less likely to foster the atmosphere of resentment that ideologues focus and shape in order to breed the type of malcontent that perceives the United States as sole creator of the world’s ills.

Furthermore, the world trusts America to a far greater degree than under the previous Administration:

Source: Pew Global Attitudes Survey

As Daniel Drezner puts it, this indicates that the world views the United States as a more competent partner in global affairs.  The Nobel Prize would seem to confirm this.  And if we’re going to make real progress on the global issues that confront us – ranging from climate change to proliferation to Iran to the war in Afghanistan – the return of American soft power and legitimacy as a competent and just actor are as important a foundation as any President could have built.  A year after the 2008 election, that is cause for great celebration.

UPDATE: I find myself agreeing completely with the remarks given by Marc Lynch in Foreign Policy’s presidential report card:

The administration has moved from the initial period of “reset” to the tougher period of implementation. A lot of people focus on the inevitable lack of immediate progress — some because they want change and are growing frustrated, others because they oppose his agenda and seek every opportunity to declare failure. I get frustrated, and I’ve been critical of some of Obama’s tactics and priorities. But stepping back from the day-to-day triumphs and frustrations shows an administration which has come a long way in less than ten months.

Much more succinct, but my sentiments exactly.



  1. […] fight against poverty and disease is at a critical juncture.  The world once again looks to the United States for leadership, and it is time for President Obama to answer the […]

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