The Presidential Persona Paradox of Barack Obama: Man of Peace or War President?

Sally Totman, Mat Hardy


On a wave of hope and rousing talk of building global bridges, President Barack Obama won office in 2008, partially on a pledge to end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. In contrast to his predecessor, who launched America into long, costly and ineffectual wars, Obama was seen to be more of a dove than a hawk. However, at the end of his two-term tenure America has been in a state of foreign belligerence for all those eight years, making Obama the longest serving US war president in history.


The political persona of Obama as a dove originated with his opposition to the 2003 intervention in Iraq while he was still a senator and was cemented early in his presidency with his 2009 speech in Cairo, which seemed to signal a profound and optimistic realignment of America’s intentions towards the Middle East and its peoples. This speech was a watershed in defining his political persona and was instrumental in his being the only US president to be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize while still in office. However during his term the underlying political landscape of the Middle East changed significantly. The withdrawal from and now return to Iraq, the nuclear agreement with Iran, the increasingly chaotic legacy of the Arab Spring, the continued impasse of the Israel-Palestinian peace, the disintegration of Yemen and Libya and the rise of the Islamic State as the new threat in the political vacuum of northern Iraq and eastern Syria and a resurgent Russian role in the region - all of these have provided novel challenges to Washington and a President attempting to live up to the positivity of his early days in office.


At the end of his presidency Obama is faced with a public burned by the disappointments of the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns and the new entanglements in the Middle East. This paper seeks to offer insights into the juxtaposition of Obama’s political persona and the reality and explores what his political legacy might really be.  


Political Persona; Political Legacy; Middle East; Obama; United States

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