The Obama Doctrine’s First Term

ASPEN – Public-opinion polls in the United States indicate a close presidential election in November. While President Barack Obama outpolls the Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, on foreign policy, slow economic growth and high unemployment – issues that are far more salient in US elections – favor Romney. And, even on foreign policy, Obama’s critics complain that he has failed to implement the transformational initiatives that he promised four years ago. Are they right?

Obama came to power when both the US and the world economy were in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Indeed, some of Obama’s economic advisers counseled him that unless urgent steps were taken to stimulate the economy, there was a one-in-three chance of entering a full-scale depression.

Thus, although Obama also inherited two ongoing wars, nuclear-proliferation threats from Iran and North Korea, and the continuing problem of Al Qaeda’s terrorism, his early months in office were devoted to addressing the economic crisis at home and abroad. His efforts were not a complete success, but he managed to stave off the worst outcome.

Obama’s rhetoric during his 2008 campaign and the first months of his presidency was both inspirational in style and transformational in objective. His first year in office included a speech in Prague in which he established the goal of a nuclear-free world; a speech in Cairo promising a new approach to the Muslim world; and his Nobel Peace Prize speech, which promised to “bend history in the direction of justice.”