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


  • Sally Totman Deakin University, Australia
  • Mat Hardy Deakin University, Australia



political persona, political legacy, Middle East, Obama, United States


On a wave of hope and rousing talk of building global bridges, President Barack Obama won office in 2008, in part 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 eight years, making Obama the longest serving U.S. 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. This was then 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 U.S. 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, with the withdrawal from then 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 reality, as well as exploring what his political legacy might really be.


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Author Biographies

  • Sally Totman, Deakin University, Australia

    Associate Professor in Middle East Studies, Deakin University.

  • Mat Hardy, Deakin University, Australia

    Senior Lecturer in Middle East Studies, Deakin University.


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How to Cite

The Presidential Persona Paradox of Barack Obama: Man of Peace or War President?. (2016). Persona Studies, 2(2), 80-89.