The brainy 44th president is a huge basketball fan, but Barack Obama knows that none of the plays he calls from the Oval Office are slam dunks. "Nothing comes to my desk that is perfectly solvable," he said in an interview this year. "Any given decision you make you'll wind up with a 30 to 40 percent chance that it isn't going to work. You have to own that and feel comfortable with the way you made the decision."
At home, Obama has done far more to lift the faltering U.S. economy out of the doldrums than his critics will acknowledge, while expanding the social safety net and daring to take on the greatest threat to America's fiscal well-being: the country's exploding health-care costs. Abroad, he has curbed his predecessor's dangerous excesses, though that doesn't mean retreating from the world. As he never ceased reminding us on the campaign trail, Osama bin Laden is dead; killer drones aggressively patrol the skies over Pakistan and elsewhere in search of al Qaeda targets; and Obama's decision to lead (from behind!) an international coalition against Libyan despot Muammar al-Qaddafi created the strange paradox of an avowedly pro-American Arab country awash in armed militias.
But Obama, ever the cautious realist, has been a careful steward of American power. This year has seen the pullout of tens of thousands of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, the theater of America's longest war. The president has also been wary of getting entangled in the even bloodier sectarian conflict in Syria, refusing to contemplate a Libya-style intervention, and he has wisely adopted a low-key approach to Egypt as it struggles to preserve its newly won democratic freedoms amid an Islamist resurgence.
Whoever sits in the Oval Office in the years ahead will find it hard to break away from Obama's more restrained view of America's role in the world -- especially now that he has four more years to follow through on his promise to end the wars of the post-9/11 decade.With the president's determination to "chip away" at global problems and make America's allies part of the solution, he has conclusively put cowboy diplomacy out to pasture.