Monday January 9, 2017
No turnabout on Syria
No international crisis tested Obama's foreign policy or his high bar for US military intervention like Syria.
Even when Bashar al-Assad defied Obama's red line on chemical weapons use and killed countless thousands of civilians — along with Russian and Iranian forces — the man who came to office on an anti-war ticket rejected calls to step in.
Syria will likely be in crisis for years to come.
Critics will long argue about whether Obama's policy was sensible and to what degree his decision damaged America's reputation, allowed the Islamic State group to grow, fuelled an immigration flow that destabilised Europe and allowed Russia and Iran to extend influence in the region.
Change the climate
After the climate scepticism of Bush, Obama's eight years in office resulted in a tidal wave of environmental legislation, protecting marine ecosystems, curbing carbon emissions and boosting renewable energy.
In a bid to engrain environmentalism into America's body politic, Obama hiked Alaskan glaciers, snorkeled at Midway Island and rushed through ratification of the Paris Climate Accord.
But Obama's environmental agenda is likely to come under sustained assault from his successor, putting the durability of that legacy into question.
A very big deal
Democrats had tried and failed for decades to provide Americans with universal health care.
Obama wasn't quite able to do that but he extended insurance coverage to tens of millions of citizens who previously had none.
Republicans decried the "Obamacare" plan as socialism incarnate, at one point claiming it would even create "death panels."
But they failed to stop it from passing.
They may yet have a crack at repealing it under Donald Trump's watch.
Meet the neighbours
Obama's trip to Cuba may be remembered in the same way as Richard Nixon's visit to China, but in truth it was the capstone of a much broader effort to improve US relations with Latin America.
Resurgent left wing populists in the region had rekindled past memories of "yanqui imperialism" — US-led coups, death squads and heavy-handed intervention.
Barely 100 days after Obama took office, he told regional leaders at a Summit of the Americas that the United States had changed.
The approach was to deny leaders like Hugo Chavez any excuses for sideshow anti-Americanism.
He shook Chavez's hand, met Nicaraguan firebrand Daniel Ortega and visited the tomb of a popular Salvadoran priest killed by US-linked death squads.
Obama alluded to "mistakes" in a coup that installed dictator Augusto Pinochet in Chile, released documents about involvement in Argentina's dirty war and, of course, visited Havana