Washington — President Obama is not shy about defining his achievements and casting them in the most positive light, yet he is loath to talk about his “legacy.”
But on Monday, Mr. Obama offered a rare glimpse at how he wants history to judge his presidency, letting the “L” word cross his lips as he touted the US economic recovery, his health care law, and his foreign policy.
Obama’s personal assessment, offered during a question-and-answer session with young Southeast Asian leaders at the White House, came not only as Obama moves toward the final 20 months of his presidency, but also as his tenure is coming under increasing fire from the growing list of Republican presidential candidates.
But then he plunged forward. “Obviously there are things that I’ve been proud of,” he said.
He first cited the economic crisis he faced upon assuming office in 2009. “It was hard, but we ended up avoiding a terrible depression,” he said. And he credited US leadership, in part, for helping avoid a worse international economic crisis.
“That’s an important legacy for me,” he said.
He highlighted “the work that I’ve done to provide health insurance” as one that was in line with his major governing principles.
But his most detailed view of his legacy was on foreign policy, arguing that the US has seen a reversal in its international standing. “Today, the US is the most respected country on earth,” he said.
It’s a conclusion that his critics vigorously dispute, and Obama’s response seemed to be as much about legacy building as it was about delivering a counterpoint to the condemnation of his foreign policy from GOP presidential contenders.
“Barack Obama has made us less safe,” South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham declared Monday as he announced his plans to seek the presidency. “Simply put, radical Islam is running wild. They have more safe havens, more money, more capability, and more weapons to strike our homeland than any time since 9/11.”
Obama instead argued that his administration has sought to engage the international community, had ended two wars and is focusing on the threat of terrorism. He cited the move to normalize relations with Cuba and to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear program.
“We have put our international relationships on very strong footing,” he said.
But in a concession to the vicissitudes of time and circumstance, Obama concluded his legacy litany by telling his questioner:
“Maybe in 18 months I’ll check back with you.”