3. Barack Obama
for charting a course through criticism.
President | Washington
Don't count Barack Obama out. Sure, the brainy young American president has had a tough sophomore year, with a stubbornly sluggish economy, worsening conditions in Afghanistan, an electoral backlash at home, and the surprise challenge of more than 4 million barrels of oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico. His sweeping plans to overhaul immigration and reinvent the way Americans use energy never got off the ground, and he can boast of neither Middle East peace nor mastery over the restive Republicans at home rising up against what they bemoan as the advent of European-style socialism.
But Obama is still arguably the developed world's most popular leader, even if the American public judges him more harshly, and he is slowly but surely inventing a new kind of U.S. leadership to go along with his vision of an America that once again projects its power through the force of its ideas. To Obama has fallen a tough task: the hard work that accompanies the building of a new order to succeed America's unchallenged rule as the lone post-Cold War superpower. But luckily for the world it is a task Obama embraces, if still hesitantly at times. He has put American prestige on the line to speak up for emerging powers still not properly represented in the world's governing bodies, boldly renewed U.S. ties of friendship with the democracies of Asia, and in his ringing address to the U.N. General Assembly in September declared himself ready to "call out those who suppress ideas" and "serve as a voice for those who are voiceless."
Such idealism has not yet come to define Obama's legacy in the world; for all his Wilsonian rhetoric, he remains a cautious incrementalist on most issues. In many ways, he's the most realist of recent U.S. presidents, determined to focus on the terrible challenges, from Afghanistan to climate change, that he's been dealt. The world may yet thank him for it.
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