Barack Obama’s successes and failures

Barack Obama’s successes and failures


Dr. Ali Al-GhamdiDr. Ali Al-Ghamdi

President Barack Obama will soon vacate the Oval Office after having served two terms and staying in power for eight years. Undoubtedly, it is not easy to pass judgment on the achievements he has made or to decide how important they are at the present time. However, Obama’s failures will be a subject of long debate among many. Some will say that these failures are few compared with Obama’s many accomplishments while others will blow the whole matter out of proportion and say that the failures have outweighed and obliterated Obama’s successes.

Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize around eight months after being elected president of the United States. The Nobel Prize committee did not award him the prize as recognition of concrete achievements but for the promising achievements he was going to make. Usually, the prize is awarded to persons who have excelled and made great achievements in their fields. But for Obama, the situation was different.

It was undoubtedly a great accomplishment, if not a miracle, so to speak, for an African-American to be elected president of the United States for the first time in the country’s history. Despite the fact that we live in an age of technology, not miracles, Obama won the election and became president in 2009. Who would have thought that something like this could happen in a society that is controlled by white people and where black people are not treated equally?

Born to a Kenyan father and a white American mother, Obama was raised by his maternal grandparents. He excelled at his studies and earned prestigious college degrees from the best American universities. He served as a law school professor and was able to prove that he had what it takes to be a candidate of the Democratic Party and later the 44th US president.

The consequences of the legacy of former US president George W. Bush were heavy and filled with crises. The effects of Bush’s presidency took the American economy, and the global one for that matter, down. During his era, the economy hit rock bottom. However, Obama succeeded in reducing the unemployment rate, reviving the auto industry, and driving corporate taxes down. Reducing such taxes created job opportunities in the market. Obama also cut the budget deficit.

Obama’s main achievement on the national level is clearly Obamacare. The main objective of it is to provide medical healthcare services to the majority of Americans at a lower cost. Obama’s predecessors were unable to reform the healthcare system. Obamacare was enacted despite Republican opposition and Trump threatened to repeal it if he won the election. But Trump later said that he would not cancel it, but would introduce amendments to it. After all, the Republicans do not have any other alternative at present. Moreover, over 20 million Americans who benefit from Obamacare will not forget this achievement.

As far as US foreign policy is concerned, Obama made some promises but totally failed to fulfill them. He could not stop Israel from building settlements in the Palestinian territories and he failed to resolve the Palestinian issue and reach a two-state solution for the Palestine-Israel conflict. Although he expressed his deep affection for Israel several times, just like his predecessors had done, he could not build strong relations with the Israeli prime minister.

Obama promised to close Guantanamo Bay but he failed. However, he reduced the number of inmates who were held there without being brought to trial. He also failed to stop the enactment of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) although he opposed it and vetoed it. Two thirds of Congress voted to override his veto.

Obama’s successes include his historic visit to Cuba and his efforts to end the American embargo on that country that was imposed over half a century ago. His visit to Myanmar following the end of military rule there and signing business agreements with local officials was another success. Nevertheless, he failed to exercise pressure on the Myanmar government to end genocide and ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims.

Obama also visited Vietnam as part of his administration’s strategy to focus on the East. As a result, the visit made China angry. Obama’s visit to Hiroshima, the city that was completely destroyed when Americans dropped an atomic bomb on it, is another feat. It was the first time an American president visited the city while he was still in power. But Obama never apologized to the Japanese people; he only said in a speech that he wished that we had a nuclear-free world.

Another success was the nuclear agreement with Iran. Obama said the agreement would prevent Iran from producing and manufacturing nuclear weapons. However, President-elect Trump said that he would tear up the agreement and then later said that he would amend some of its articles.
Despite the failures of the Obama administration in the Arab and Muslim world, he was able to pull off a number of initiatives, and in the final analysis, history will place him among the most successful US presidents.

— Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at


  1. Thank you very much for this article. It is indeed very difficult to decide whether Obama has been successful or not and only history and time will allow us to assess his journey as a president. I believe, however, that one of his greatest achievements rather lies in his attractive and down-to-earth personality which have made it possible for people to listen to him with respect. He started his eight-year presidency with promises of change not only in America, but also around the world. Although he was not successful in implementing all his plans, his presence and perspectives paved the way for ambitious hopes and promising possibilities locally and globally.