The most immediate achievement of President Obama was to restore the standing of the United States in the world. This turn-around began on election day. Centre College sends most of its students abroad in their college career, and they reported from all over the world the sea-change in attitudes toward Americans in November 2008. I was with students at the University of Sydney for President Obama's inauguration, which we watched with a packed and delighted house at the United States Study Center.
The realities of world politics have eroded some of that euphoria. Still, the United States is seen as a much more responsible power in the world now than it was two years ago. President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize, while premature for his achievements, represents the hope and prod to be the world leader for lawful, respectful international order.
I think the Obama administration has been most successful in getting us back on track on civil decency in conducting our affairs. We are working better with our allies, especially in conducting our wars. I am glad that we are engaging the world again on climate change, though so far no nation has much to show for it. De-escalating the "axis of evil" rhetoric about Iran and North Korea helps make constructive engagement more possible. I hope we can make progress in getting Israel to deal justly, or at least realistically, with the Palestinians. Most important, in the medium run, is developing solid relations with the most moderate Muslim states, and encouraging democratic reforms there to head off Islamist coups. This is not just in the interests of the U.S., but of peace for everyone.
The major issue for the future will be how we deal with China. I think the Obama administration has a realistic sense that having sent our manufacturing capacity and our IOUs to China, we have to treat China with more respect than we have for the past decade. We still have to push them toward democracy and freedom; since we gave them most of our leverage, the task is tricky.
The war against Al Qaeda will dominate Obama's foreign actions for the foreseeable future. All of American relations with other nations, though, are improved by the better standing of the U.S. that we now have in the world.