Obama looks abroad to secure his legacy

June 25, 2015
U.S. President Barack Obama meets with the leaders of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) countries in Beijing

U.S. President Barack Obama (2nd R) meets with the leaders of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) countries in Beijing November 10, 2014. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

At a moment when much of the world is watching Greece, one of the most critical moments in Barack Obama’s presidency is also fast approaching.

Within a few days, the president could secure not just a historic nuclear deal with Iran, but also sign into law domestic legislation that could enable two potentially landmark international trade agreements — allowing the country to help write what U.S. officials have called “the rules of the road” for the 21st Century world economy.

Together with an Iran deal, the success of a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) — which would link the economies of countries that generate 40 percent and 50 percent respectively of global gross domestic product — could be the high point of Obama’s second term, embedding U.S. influence in Asia-Pacific, the Americas and Europe. These victories would become a major part of his presidential legacy as his tenure in the White House begins to wind down.

The fact that Obama’s second-term legacy is being defined on the foreign policy front, rather than by domestic policy, has become a relatively common pattern for re-elected presidents in recent decades. Since his 2012 campaign against Republican Mitt Romney, Obama has achieved very little domestic policy success.

His gun control bill was defeated and looks unlikely to be rejuvenated despite this month’s tragic shooting in Charleston. Comprehensive immigration reform faces significant opposition in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. And the prospect of a long-term budgetary “grand bargain” with Congress in 2015 or 2016 looks very unlikely too. Implementation of his landmark healthcare initiative was widely seen as botched.

Many re-elected presidents in the postwar era have, like Obama, struggled to acquire domestic policy momentum, in large part because their parties, as with the Democrats now, often hold a weaker position in Congress. Thus Dwight Eisenhower in 1956, Richard Nixon in 1972 and Bill Clinton in 1996 were all re-elected alongside Congresses where both the House of Representatives and Senate were controlled by their partisan opponents.

While Congress can significantly influence the course of Obama’s foreign policy — the legislature, for example, will vote on any deal that is ultimately brokered with Iran — it generally has less latitude over international issues, compared to domestic issues. So with little opportunity to push domestic policy forward, the president’s focus on foreign policy may only grow for his remaining period in office, especially if the U.S. economy continues to recover.

The Iranian deal is being brokered amidst frenetic diplomacy, with a June 30 deadline — set by the so-called P5+1 (United States, China, Russia, United Kingdom, Germany and France) — fast approaching. Despite domestic U.S. and international criticism of such a deal, securing a comprehensive nuclear agreement would be a major victory for the White House. An Iran deal also has the potential to transform the wider geopolitics of the Middle East, and help with Obama’s broader goal of enhancing global nuclear security.

On the trade policy front, the president hopes to sign into law domestic legislation, Trade Promotion Authority and Trade Adjustment Assistance, which will enable the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP reflects Obama’s desire to reorient U.S. international policy towards the Asia-Pacific region and other strategic, high-growth markets.

The president also wants to secure the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) — a trade and investment deal with the 28 European Union states. This deal would represent the largest regional free trade and investment agreement in history, with the United States and Europe accounting for more than 50 percent of the world’s gross domestic product.

In addition to these trade deals and a nuclear agreement with Iran, Obama could bolster his presidential legacy with other international achievements. In Iraq and Syria, a U.S.-led military coalition is trying to weaken Islamic State, while a reduced U.S. force remains in Afghanistan to stabilize the new national unity government, the victim of recent Taliban attacks.

In Europe, meanwhile, the Obama administration is helping to bolster Ukraine after Russia annexed Crimea. If Greece defaults on its international debts and decides to leave the eurozone, the White House may have to play a greater diplomatic role in the continent to manage the political and economic fallout.

Obama is entering into a massively important period of his presidency, with several major potential foreign policy objectives that will help to define his legacy. With his domestic policy stalling in Congress, his focus on key international issues may only intensify.

11 comments

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A Muslim puke who is selling out the American worker. His legacy will make Jimmy Carter look like a saint.

Posted by devildoc68 | Report as abusive

The issue is considerably larger than the character or aspirations of one politician.

Posted by Laster | Report as abusive

Good President. Good record.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

devildoc68 complains: “A Muslim puke who is selling out the American worker.”

What would you know about the American worker. You GOP hillbilly tweakers and lard-asses have been on unemployment for 7 years.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

This writer’s “attitude” is somewhat disconcerting. For example, in this statement, “Obama is entering into a massively important period of his presidency, with several major potential foreign policy objectives that will help to define his legacy,” I would say that Obama’s important period has passed. Many Americans believe his massively important period happened in 2009-2014 when he overlooked jobs growth and let the Federal Reserve pour Trillions of bogus dollars into the cash flow of the U.S. His failures in domestic policy will be remembered by all of the WWII baby boomers who had our retirement plans punctured by the 2008 crisis, then flat-lined by the neglect of the Obama administration.

Another example of my skepticism of this writer resides in his statement that, “If Greece defaults on its international debts and decides to leave the eurozone, the White House may have to play a greater diplomatic role in the continent to manage the political and economic fallout.” What idiot would want this administration to intrude into the Greek/Euro debate? This administration is the most divisive administration in a century. Does this writer want division? Forget the U.S. for at least 18 months. You’d be better off with the Icelandic government weighing in–if you can get them to step outside their comfort zone of success.

Posted by hometown | Report as abusive

A victory for the White House is not automatically a victory for America. He is more committed to doing what he wants, then listening to the rest of the world that looks on his deal with Iran with horror.

Posted by oracle123 | Report as abusive

What a deluded view. Obama’s main hope for a legacy would be the health care law, in that ACA could lead to something better over time. Pretty much everyone knows that ACA itself, however, is unsustainable and will need to be either fixed or replaced. On foreign policy, he could end up being remembered as the president that started the United States’ disastrous retreat from world leadership, depending on whether the next president can fix his mistakes. Will future historians forget how he looked away while Assad created millions of refugees and gassed his own people? Will they forget how he stood there, befuddled and confused, while Putin menaced Ukraine, threatened the American people with nuclear incineration and intimidated Europe?

Posted by Calfri | Report as abusive

I finally understood what the writer means by his statement, ““If Greece defaults on its international debts and decides to leave the eurozone, the White House may have to play a greater diplomatic role in the continent to manage the political and economic fallout.”

…He thinks Obama should enter a bidding war against Putin to “save” Greece from domination by the bear after EU backs out. I wonder if the writer, and, or, Obama really think(s) the U.S. voters will allow Obama to give away even more of our hard earned dollars to entitlement-minded Greeks, after having given most of our hard earned dollars away already to the illegal immigrants crossing our southern border and poorly administered ACA, VA, City of Baltimore, etc., etc., etc. Don’t think of going there.

Posted by hometown | Report as abusive

People have forgotten how full was Obama’s dish when he started.His main problem is his own party with divisions.However intelligently he has fulfilled most of his commitments during election campaign Viz Economy,unemployment,health care,security and inflation.His legacy is his choice for the best and trusted advisers and executives and how he made way through unbelievable opposition.

Posted by gentalman | Report as abusive

Almost unknown politician Obama is elected not once but twice!People have seen something in him and he has proved his worth in matters of economy,unemployment,health care,security etc.He has won the hearts of even his opponents9Current speaker) in America and the world.He took everything on him.With his learned back ground of history and law,he studied each issue and yet valued opinions of others.His achievement of Obama Health care plan is the most outstanding,the way he fought for that.I am sure he will be appreciated more when he will not be the president.

Posted by gentalman | Report as abusive

So far he was caught in local issues.It is now he is free to concentrate on foreign issues.Look at he appointed special representitive to settle with Israel and Palestine.He started speaking about Greece.Before he goes he will certainly settle with Iran and Russia lifting sanctions.He certainly will show eyes to Israel and Saudi Arabia and will bring them round.

Posted by gentalman | Report as abusive