When Barack Obama completes his term, he will write his memoirs in exchange for the heftiest advance ever received: about $20 million. Afterward, he will await history’s judgment, since he hopes to go down in history as one of the great presidents. In light of a series of events and statements this week, it’s possible to conclude that he will not have long to wait until he is indeed described that way.
Obama cannot be explained without taking into account the significance of the election of a black man, the son of a Muslim father, as the president of the world’s nerve center. While it is hard to measure precisely, it would be a mistake to ignore the link between his entry into the most important job on earth and the Arab Spring, which began two years later. Obama’s shattering of an enormous psychological obstacle reverberated throughout the world, and will continue to do so for years to come.
Many people in the West complain that the United States is losing influence under Obama’s leadership. But the approach Obama brought to the job is the same one that will come naturally to the leaders of the next generation: a post-modern approach that does not look at the world in terms of good versus bad, West versus East. While Obama’s way of accomplishing tikkun olam — a Jewish term for social action that he often uses, influenced by the Reform Judaism that is close to his heart — is convoluted and complex, it proved itself this week.
The international conference on Syria is an accomplishment, mainly because it took place as Assad’s regime was in the process of giving up its chemical weapons completely. It’s a success that would have been very difficult to achieve through any military operation. Without worrying about appearing to be hesitant in the eyes of the world, after he promised to attack and changed his mind, he put a perfect equation into effect with the world’s support: A country that had used chemical weapons would give them up. It was the best revenge, served cold.
This week, implementation of the interim agreement with Iran also began, stopping their nuclear program for the first time in a decade. This accomplishment, too, has yet to be properly understood, since even those who favor a military strike admit that at most, an attack would delay the nuclear program by a few years. Not only have the Iranians been delayed without risk to the world’s welfare, but Obama has also won legitimacy to use force if the final agreement should run into difficulty.
Obama’s achievements go beyond foreign policy. The black journalist and director Jonathan P. Hicks, who visited Israel this week, says that the most amazing thing about Obama’s term is how naturally most Americans accepted his support for same-sex marriage. He explained that anyone familiar with American politics knows that until just a few years ago, a president who expressed such support would have been considered uninterested in keeping his job.
Why can Obama do it? Because like Lincoln, Ben-Gurion and other prominent leaders, he is an authentic product of the spirit of the time, and he looks toward the future. In that context, he told New Yorker magazine with nonchalance, in an article that demonstrates the magic and importance of good journalism, that as a former smoker of both tobacco and marijuana, he does not believe that grass is worse than alcohol, but that like cigarettes, he remembers that joints are “a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy.”
The man who holds the world’s most important job, who devoted his recent vacation to the “Breaking Bad” TV show marathon, has given inspiration to a worldwide policy of marijuana decriminalization, at the very least, even as he speaks of the disadvantages of smoking it. He could not be more correct or more exact.
It is obvious that he will not accomplish everything he wants to during his term. But his historical importance will add up to more than the sum of his accomplishments as a politician, mainly because of the inspiration he gives to shaping the world of the future.