The Obama Legacy: A Promise of Hope

A Look Back at Eight Years of Victories and Defeats


“On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear.”

These words of optimism rang out from banks of speakers, echoed across the West Lawn of the Capitol and down the length of the National Mall on a cold and blustery day in January 2009. An estimated 1.8 million people huddled in the cold, and tens of millions more around the world watched and listened on TV. With the Capitol, that symbol of democratic freedom and power as a backdrop, the message of hope was delivered.

Behind the podium, one man stood alone — Barack Hussein Obama, the 47-year-old son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas after taking the oath of office. He was now the 44th president of the United States, after winning a historic election by some 10 million votes.

Obama’s message of hope was badly needed. Although more than seven years had passed since the 9/11 attacks shook the very foundation of this nation, the smoke had not yet cleared from our collective memory. The resulting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had claimed thousands more American lives. Osama bin Laden, the man behind the history-altering attack, continued to elude capture even as he encouraged his followers to launch more terrorist strikes.

Obama's Presidential Legacy

Barack Obama takes the oath of office before Chief Justice John Roberts, not seen, as Michelle Obama holds the Lincoln Bible and daughters Sasha, right, and Malia watch at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Jan. 20, 2009.
President Barack Obama dances with his wife, First Lady Michelle Obama, as Beyonce sings "At Last" during the first Inaugural Ball on Jan. 20, 2009, in Washington, D.C.
"At Last"
President Barack Obama caps his pen after he signed an executive order in the Oval Office, Jan. 22, 2009, to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. He is applauded by Vice President Joe Biden, second from left, and retired military officers. His promise was harder to keep than he had imagined and though he was able to release over 175 people, 55 prisoners remain as of Jan. 6, 2016.
Closing Guantanamo
President Barack Obama holds a town hall in Elkhart, Indiana, on Feb. 9, 2009, and answers questions on his $800 billion stimulus plan. Taking office shortly after the housing crisis and the government bank bailout, Obama chose Elkhart, a town where unemployment tripled, to pitch his plan.
Selling the Stimulus Plan
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama meet Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, during an audience at Buckingham Palace in central London, on April 1, 2009. The Obamas’ first meeting was noted for Michelle Obama’s touching the queen, which is considered a faux pas. Obama was the 12th U.S. president the queen has met since taking the throne.
Royal Meeting
President Barack Obama walks alongside daughter Sasha as Malia walks the family's new 6-month-old Portuguese water dog Bo on the South Lawn of the White House on April 14, 2009. The president promised his daughters they could get a dog after the election and the puppy came as a gift from Sen. Ted Kennedy. The Obamas adopted a second dog, Sunny, in August of 2013.
Promised Puppy
President Barack Obama bends over so that Jacob Philadelphia, the son of a then-White House staff member, can touch his head after asking if the president’s hair was the same as his, during a visit to the Oval Office on May 8, 2009.
Is my hair like yours?
Following a speech at Cairo University, President Barack Obama tours Egypt's Great Sphinx and the pyramids of Giza on June 4, 2009, outside of Cairo, Egypt. The president’s speech, aimed at improving U.S. relations with the Muslim world, expounded on the Israeli conflict and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Reaching out to the Muslim World
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have a beer with Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., second from left, and Cambridge, Mass., police Sgt. James Crowley in the Rose Garden of the White House, July 30, 2009. Obama tried to make peace after Crowley’s arrest of Gates at the scholar’s home and after Obama said the police had acted “stupidly.”
Beer Summit
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama watch the torch parade from the balcony of their hotel in Oslo, Norway, Dec. 10, 2009, in the evening after he received the Nobel Peace Prize.
Nobel Peace Prize
President Barack Obama is applauded after signing the Affordable Care Act into law in the East Room of the White House on March 23, 2010. Obama’s signature achievement has enrolled millions of Americans who were previously uninsured but Republicans have tried to repeal it from day one. Though the website suffered from technical glitches in the early days, an estimated 20 million Americans currently get their insurance through the ACA.
President Obama arrives unannounced in Afghanistan, where he met with troops at Bagram Air Base in Kabul, March 28, 2010 – his first of four visits to the war zone. In order to fulfill his pledge to end the war, Obama ultimately decided on an escalate-then-exit strategy, hoping to get U.S. troops out before the end of his presidency. During his last year in office, Obama admitted he’d have to leave at least 8,400 American soldiers because the Afghan forces have failed to secure their own country.
Never-ending War
President Barack Obama and China's President Hu Jintao walk the red carpet into the White House after a state arrival ceremony on Jan. 19, 2011. Obama aimed to improve and build closer ties to Asia, but was hampered by distractions in the Middle East, Chinese incursions in the South China Seas, the inability to contain North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and the failure to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal (TPP).
Pivot to Asia
President Barack Obama, sitting next to Brigadier General Marshall B. “Brad” Webb, as he and other members of the National Security team, monitoring in real time, oversee the mission against Osama bin Laden, May 1, 2011.
Osama bin Laden
President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner play the first hole of golf at Joint Base Andrews, Md., June 18, 2011. An avid golfer, Obama plays whenever time allows, using the sport as a way to unwind, sometimes mixing business with pleasure. Obama pursued compromise with his ideological opponents, and he commenced secret talks with Boehner in the form of a “grand bargain” over the debt crisis that ultimately failed.
Golfing with the GOP
President Obama joins in singing “Sweet Home Chicago” during the "In Performance at the White House: Red, White and Blues" concert in the East Room of the White House, Feb. 21, 2012. Participants include, from left, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, Jeff Beck, Derek Trucks, B.B. King and Gary Clark, Jr. Obama first broke out singing the opening line of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” during a fundraiser at the historic Apollo Theater in New York City in 2012.
President Barack Obama sits on the famed Rosa Parks bus at the Henry Ford Museum following an event in Dearborn, Mich., April 18, 2012. In 1955 Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat for a white customer, fueling the Civil Rights movement.
Contemplating History
President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the Transfer of Remains Ceremony at Joint Base Andrews on Sept. 14, 2012, for the return of the bodies of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans who died during an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Benghazi Attack
President Barack Obama is greeted by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie upon arriving in Atlantic City, N.J., on Oct. 31, 2012, to visit areas hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy. Less than a year after the governor made harsh comments about Obama, he welcomed the president and federal aid after Superstorm Sandy devastated the New Jersey coast and praised Obama’s leadership during the crisis.
Superstorm Sandy
President Barack Obama celebrates on stage with his wife Michelle after delivering his victory speech in Chicago on Nov. 7, 2012. Obama won re-election to a second term, beating Republican Mitt Romney.
Four More Years
President Barack Obama pauses during a speech at an interfaith vigil for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, at Newtown High School in Newtown, Conn., Dec. 16, 2012. Following the tragic incident in which 20 students and six adults were killed, Obama created a gun task force to provide recommendations on how to reduce gun violence in America. Despite all his efforts, two major pieces of legislation that came in the wake of the shooting failed to pass the Senate.
Gun Violence
President Barack Obama peers out from former South African President Nelson Mandela's cell on Robben Island, South Africa, June 30, 2013. Obama returned several months later to speak at Mandela's funeral service, telling the crowd, "It took a man like Mandela to liberate not just the prisoner, but the jailer as well."
Honoring Mandela’s Legacy
President Barack Obama walks back to the Oval Office with the parents of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, Jani Bergdahl, left, and Bob Bergdahl, after making a statement regarding the release of Sgt. Bergdahl from captivity May 31, 2014. Berghdahl was released in a prisoner swap after being held by the Taliban for five years after deserting his base in Afghanistan.
Controversial Swap
President Barack Obama hugs Dreamer Astrid Silva before speaking to students and immigration advocates at Del Sol High School, in Las Vegas, Nov. 21, 2014. The president unveiled expansive executive actions on immigration to spare nearly 5 million people in the U.S. illegally from deportation, setting off a fierce fight with Republicans over the limits of presidential powers.
Dream Act
Singing "We Shall Overcome," President Barack Obama walks with Amelia Boynton Robinson, who was beaten during "Bloody Sunday," as they and others, including Rep. John Lewis, left of Obama, walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., for the 50th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday," a landmark event of the civil rights movement, March 7, 2015. Many Americans hoped that race relations would improve under Obama’s presidency, but his term was marred by police shootings that sparked civil unrest and protests, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 being struck down by the Supreme Court.
“Bloody Sunday”
The president’s "anger translator," Luther, as portrayed by comedian Keegan-Michael Key, gestures as President Barack Obama speaks at the annual White House Correspondents Association Gala, April 25, 2015, in Washington, D.C.
President Barack Obama sings "Amazing Grace" during services honoring the life of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, June 26, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. Pinckney was one of the nine people killed in the shooting by a white supremacist who targeted the historically significant black Emanuel AME Church.
“Amazing Grace”
The White House stands illuminated in rainbow colored light at dusk on June 26, 2015, to celebrate the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down gay marriage bans across the country. The Supreme Court's ruling that gay marriage is legal nationwide is a "victory for America," said President Obama.
Marriage Equality
President Barack Obama, standing with Vice President Joe Biden, conducts a press conference in the East Room of the White House to announce the Iran Nuclear Deal, on July 14, 2015. Senate Democrats were able to successfully fend off Republican efforts to reject the deal. The opposition went so far as to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress. Netanyahu called it a “bad deal.” Obama called the vote “A victory for diplomacy, for American national security, and for the safety and security of the world.”
Iran Deal
President Barack Obama and Pope Francis walk down the Colonnade on their way to the Oval Office of the White House, Sept. 23, 2015. The historic visit was only the third time a pontiff has visited the White House – the last time was in 2008.
Hosting the Pope
President Barack Obama watches as Vice President Joe Biden turns to his wife Dr. Jill Biden after announcing that he will not run for the presidential nomination, Oct. 21, 2015, in the Rose Garden of the White House.
Biden Declines
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan shares a laugh with Republican members of Congress after signing legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, Jan. 7, 2016, in Washington, D.C. President Obama vetoed the bill the following day.
Republican Retort
Malia and Sasha walk with their parents down the Great Hall in the White House as they attend their first state dinner in honor of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada and Mrs. Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, March 10, 2016. The Obamas guarded their daughters privacy during the eight years they as they grew from girls to young women.
All Grown Up
Cuban President Raul Castro lifts up the arm of President Barack Obama at the conclusion of their joint news conference at the Palace of the Revolution in Havana, Cuba, March 21, 2016. Obama restored diplomatic relations with Cuba and his visit was the first by a sitting president in nearly 90 years.
Normalizing Relations
President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, Japan, May 27, 2016. Obama was the first sitting president to visit the site of the world's first atomic bomb attack, bringing global attention both to survivors and to his unfulfilled vision of a world without nuclear weapons. Abe responded by visiting the memorial at Pearl Harbor several months later.
Healing Wounds with Japan
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden place flowers during their visit to a memorial to the 49 victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting, June 16, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. During his address to the nation, Obama called the massacre, which was the deadliest mass shooting in the U.S., “an act of terror and an act of hate.”
Pulse Nightclub Attack
President Barack Obama hugs Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, on stage during the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 27, 2016. Obama delivered a rousing speech in support of Clinton, who made a surprise appearance and embraced the president. But it was his wife, Michelle, whose speech garnered the most attention and led to speculation about her political aspirations.
I’m with Her
Russian President Vladimir Putin talks with President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the G20 Leaders Summit in Hangzhou, China, Sept. 5, 2016. Relations between the two countries soured following Russia's annexation of Crimea and then hit a new low after U.S. intelligence agencies said Russian hackers attempted to influence the U.S. presidential election.
Echoes of the Cold War
Two days after the presidential election, President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump shake hands during a transition planning meeting in the Oval Office on Nov. 10, 2016. Although Trump promises to undo much of Obama's presidential legacy, Obama invited him to the White House and the two set aside their differences – at least for the day. It was Trump's first time in the White House and his first meeting with President Obama.
Beginning the Transition
President Barack Obama delivers his farewell address in Chicago, Jan. 10, 2017. He thanked his supporters and included an emotional tribute to his wife and daughters, as well as warning of threats to democracy. He closed with his campaign slogan, saying, "Yes we can. Yes we did. Yes we can."
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“Our economy is badly weakened,” Obama said. “Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly, our schools fail too many.” A financial crisis had gripped the nation. In what would come to be known as the Great Recession 8 million Americans lost their jobs, and real net worth of households dropped 22 percent. It all added up, he said, to a “sapping of confidence across our land, a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, that the next generation must lower its sights.”

But after ticking off the many negatives we faced as a nation, Obama insisted that the country needed to “seize gladly” its hardships head-on and turn these challenges into successes.

“With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents and endure what storms may come,” Obama concluded, his voice rising with conviction. “Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested, we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter.”

Eight years later, some of the hopes expressed on that day have been fulfilled, some have faltered, and others are works in progress. As Obama turns over the mantle of the presidency to Donald Trump, ABC News examines his legacy.
An Economy on the Brink of Failure

The U.S. economy was firmly in the grips of a bad recession for more than a year before Obama became president. The housing market, shocked by a massive collapse of subprime mortgages, was reeling. Global financial companies like Lehman Brothers were in complete meltdown. American companies were shedding more than half a million jobs every month, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average had lost half its value.

Passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was the first major legislative success for the new president. Buoyed by substantial Democratic control of the House and Senate, the $787 billion stimulus bill was quickly passed and signed into law less than a month after he took office. It was an economic defibrillator designed to jolt the nation back to life.

But there was nothing quick about the recovery that followed. Unemployment continued to rise, peaking at 10.1 percent in October 2009. Millions of people had simply given up even trying to find a job. The nation’s gross domestic product continued to sputter. Opponents seized on these factors. Some liberal opponents argued the package wasn’t enough, while conservatives countered that the plan was too expensive and did little to restore the economy.

Nearly three years later, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office issued a report stating that the ARRA had in fact had a demonstrable impact on the nation, saving as many as 2.9 million jobs. But a sluggish economy has persisted with, for example, unemployment dropping to prerecession levels only in the closing months of the Obama administration.
Race in America – The Divide Widens

Obama was swept into office in 2008 on a tidal wave of support from racial and ethnic minorities. Election Day polling by ABC News found that 95 percent of African-Americans who cast ballots voted for Obama, as did two-thirds of Hispanic, Asian and other minorities. The polling showed a majority of Americans, including white voters, felt that the nation’s troubled history with race relations had finally turned a corner.

Still, racism dogged Obama’s campaign even before he clinched the Democratic nomination. Among the controversies he had to endure was the charge that he wasn’t eligible to run because he wasn’t born in The United States. The birther theory, long espoused by Donald Trump, has endured throughout Obama’s presidency despite the release of his Hawaiian birth certificate. Trump and Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio only recently let go of the issue.

Obama ran into trouble for his association with his longtime pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who delivered sermons filled with racial biases. As he campaigned for the presidency, Obama tackled the subject head-on in a speech judged by many to be among the most potent discussions of race in decades.

“Race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now,” he said to an audience at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia. He used his personal story as “the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas” to validate the feelings of both black and white Americans. He acknowledged the anger many black Americans feel about poverty and lack of opportunities. He also recognized that “a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race.”

Then, in perhaps the most prescient line of his speech that day, Obama said, “I have never been so naive as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle.”

Nearly nine years later, ABC News polling indicates declining race relations. In 2008, when he delivered that famous speech, 55 percent of American voters surveyed said they believe that race relations were “generally good.” As he leaves office, more than 63 percent said they believe relations have become “generally bad,” and a full 83 percent said they want the next president to put a “major focus” on improving the situation.

So did Obama's presidency do more to heal or divide the country on race? There is no watershed moment or presidential action on which to pin the answer. In reality, there may have been little this president could have done.

One major indicator of what has happened in the past eight years can be summed up in a single word. Ferguson. When Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed in broad daylight by a white police officer in August 2014, the town of Ferguson, Missouri, erupted into some of the worst, most racially charged riots in decades. A series of police shootings of unarmed black men, many of them recorded by cellphone cameras, followed, and the issue of racial injustice came into renewed focus. A loose organization that began with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter exploded into international prominence after staging blunt public demonstrations objecting to the way black people have been treated historically by whites in this country and by police in particular. In response, slogans like “All lives matter,” in support of whites, and movements like Blue Lives Matter, in support of police, sprang up to counter Black Lives Matter.

Through all of this, Obama has walked a fine line. After the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Florida, killed by George Zimmerman, who was patrolling as part of a neighborhood watch program, Obama opined, “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.” And when Alton Sterling was killed in Louisiana and Philando Castile was killed in Minnesota in 2016, both by police, Obama said, “These are not isolated incidents. They’re symptomatic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system.”

On the other side of the divide, just a few days later, Micah Johnson killed five Dallas police officers and wounded nine others because, he told Dallas police, he wanted to kill white people and cops in particular. The president praised law enforcement officers for the difficult role they fill in American society.

“The deepest fault lines of our democracy have suddenly been exposed, perhaps even widened,” Obama said. “ I understand how Americans are feeling. But Dallas, I’m here to say we must reject such despair. I’m here to insist we’re not as divided as we seem.”

Perhaps not. But his words and actions seem to have done little to assuage the critics. After the Dallas shootings, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick charged during an ABC News town hall that Obama didn’t go far enough to support police and “protect their lives.” On the other side, liberal political commentator and talk show host Tavis Smiley lamented that “black people lost ground in every single leading economic category during the Obama years.”
‘Obamacare’ – The Signature Accomplishment

The Affordable Care Act, designed to make health care available to every American, is such a signature accomplishment of this administration that it is most commonly known as “Obamacare.” But that signature may be written in disappearing ink. Republicans have been joined by the incoming administration of Donald Trump in their cry to repeal and replace Obamacare.

The program seeks to enroll the entire nation in some form of health care coverage, imposing tax penalties on those who don’t comply. The belief is that this form of universal coverage will ultimately reduce federal budget deficits by hundreds of billions of dollars by 2021. But opponents consider it a socialist takeover of the nation’s health care industry.

The roots of the program can be traced to President Bill Clinton’s desire to expand health coverage to 37 million Americans without insurance. Obama positioned it as one of his four main goals as president in 2008.

Passage of the wide-ranging act was acrimonious at best. More than a year of testy negotiations took place, and rhetoric became so heated that it was virtually impossible to separate fact from fiction. The bill passed in the House 219-212, with 34 Democrats and every single Republican voting “nay.”

At the bill signing, Vice President Joe Biden famously turned to the president, whispering in his ear, caught on a microphone saying the passage was “big f---ing deal.”

Republicans introduced a bill to repeal the law the very next day and have tried unsuccessfully to do so more than 60 times since.

“Obamacare” has had other challenges as well. Some states opted out of the creation of health care exchanges, and some insurance companies have pulled out of those marketplaces. The law has faced numerous court challenges, with one reaching all the way to the Supreme Court, where the tenets of “Obamacare” were upheld. Contrary to the president’s words, some people lost their existing insurance policies, and many people were no longer to able to see the same doctor they had been going to for years. Then, when the online insurance exchanges, where eligible Americans could go to purchase the mandated levels of insurance came online, they crashed just as quickly. Weeks of computer failures, frustrations and anti-”Obamacare” rhetoric filled the air.

Despite the issues and ongoing Republican attacks, the Affordable Care Act has had a significant impact. The Census Bureau reports that the number of uninsured Americans has dropped from 16 percent in 2010 to less than 9 percent today — a decrease of 23 million people. And a recent report estimated that 24,000 lives have been saved from premature deaths because of the ability to get health care access.

While the president admits premiums have increased, he points to the slowed growth of the health insurance market as a cost savings to those who receive employer-based health care. On average, Obama told a Miami audience, consumers are paying $3,600 less for insurance than if premiums had continued to rise at the rate they were before the legislation was passed.

The law also made it illegal for insurance companies to discriminate against existing conditions, banned lifetime limits and made birth control free.
PHOTO: President Barack Obama monitors the mission against Osama bin Laden from the Situation Room at the White House on May 1, 2011.
The Killing of Osama bin Laden

A week after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, George W. Bush addressed a stunned nation.

“I want justice,” Bush said. “There’s an old poster out west that I recall that said, ‘Wanted: Dead or alive.’”

Bush would not get his wish while in office.

For nearly a decade, the search for 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden wandered from eastern Afghanistan to Pakistan and even Iran. Lead after lead evaporated. Bin Laden grew more ghostlike as the years passed.

Nearly 10 years later, through a publicly murky series of events, tips and surveillance efforts, U.S. intelligence agencies came to the conclusion that bin Laden was holed up in a walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Months of surveillance and planning ensued, and Obama gave his final green light to a helicopter raid of the compound on April 29, 2011.

Two days later, about two dozen Navy SEALs descended on the compound from stealth helicopters, one of which struck the wall of the compound and soft crashed. The raid on the compound continued, and bin Laden was shot dead, along with four other occupants.

As he sat in the White House Situation Room, watching the night vision video feed from a drone flying above the compound, Obama is reported to have simply said, “We got him.”

Obama made immediate plans to announce the killing of bin Laden in a nationwide television address. But rumors of the killing broke on social media more than an hour before he would step in front of the camera to deliver the news. Shortly before midnight on May 1, 2011, he made it official.

“I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden,” the president began. He reminded the world that nearly 3,000 American lives had been lost on 9/11, and that the United States would be “relentless” in its efforts to hunt down terrorists. “And on nights like this one,” he added, “we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al-Qaeda's terror, justice has been done.”
Same-Sex Marriage – A President Evolves

There is perhaps no social issue that has elicited stronger responses in recent times than same-sex marriage. Presidents had demurred on addressing the issue at the national level, and Obama did so as well at first. But his position has evolved over time, slowly and steadily.

Obama exploded onto the national scene in the summer of 2004, when he took the stage at the Democratic National Convention. His keynote speech was so strong that it immediately ignited presidential talk among fellow Democrats. But first, he was running for the U.S. Senate, an election he won that November.

When the newly elected senator sat down with MTV for an interview, he addressed the subject of same-sex marriage, flatly stating that he was “not in favor of gay marriage.” Four years later, as he and Hillary Clinton were battling for the Democratic presidential nomination, he doubled down. “I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman,” Obama said. “For me as a Christian, it is a sacred union. You know, God is in the mix.”

But other forces were at work as well. Public opinion, a California referendum, federal legislation and court opinions appeared to be converging on a path toward legal recognition of same-sex marriage, with or without him. In 2010, Obama expressed support for civil unions, equivalent in many ways with marriage, and admitted that his opinion was “evolving.”

The final step of an evolution often requires a catalyst, some outside influence that imposes itself on the process and makes things happen. In this case, the catalyst for the final step of the president’s evolution was Biden, who told the audience of a Sunday morning talk show in 2012 that he was “absolutely comfortable” with same-sex marriage.

All eyes turned to the president. Insisting in an interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts that he was going to say it anyway, Obama became the first president to say, while in office, that he supported same-sex marriage. But he was quick to add that the legal questions surrounding the issue should be left up to the states.

Then in 2013, the Supreme Court heard a case challenging the Defense of Marriage Act, a mid-1990s law that barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex couples as spouses. The high court overturned a key provision of DOMA, ruling that it violated the Fifth Amendment by singling out a class of people for discrimination.

Obama’s final evolution on the subject came the next year, when he said, “Ultimately, I think the equal protection clause does guarantee same-sex marriage in all 50 states.”
Climate Change – Legacy Laws to the Rescue

“We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.” It was just one sentence in Obama’s first inaugural address. But it would lay the groundwork for the new president’s environmental policy for the next eight years.

In his first major initiative, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Obama sought to inject billions of dollars into the development of green energy projects, committing an estimated $150 billion federal dollars during his first term in office.

Not all of that money brought dividends. For example, ARRA money was used to place a $535 million dollar loan in the hands of Solyndra, a California company that was trying to develop a complicated solar technology before it went bankrupt in 2011.The way the White House pushed the deal through was instrumental in a quickly worsening relationship between Obama and Capitol Hill.

Obama wasn’t going to let a stalled Congress stop his action on the environment, reaching back to a decades-old law to shape modern policy. He relied on the Clean Air Act of 1970 to shape Environmental Protection Agency regulations and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act of 1953 to protect the Arctic from oil drilling.

Obama’s Clean Power Plan debuted in August 2015 and set stiff carbon emission standards for power plants. He envisioned using less coal, more natural gas and more renewable energy sources, coupled with reduced demand, as the way to get there. The Clean Power Plan was, he said, “the single most important step that America has ever made in the fight against global climate change.”

The move was immediately attacked by Republicans as a war on coal, and dozens of states filed suit. The Supreme Court ordered the EPA to halt enforcement as their case made its way through the courts. The suit is pending and will not be resolved before Obama’s term ends.

With only a month left in his presidency, Obama utilized the 1953 Lands Act to remove leasing options for any Arctic drilling in the future. Under Obama’s tenure, nearly 125 million acres in the Arctic have been protected from future oil and gas development.

On the international front, the farthest-reaching environmental action is the Paris Agreement, which seeks to permanently limit the global average temperature to an increase of 2 degrees Celsius or less.

He created the largest marine preserve in the world, quadrupling the size of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument; reached a deal with carmakers to increase fuel economy to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025; designated more than 2 million acres of federal wilderness by signing the bipartisan Public Land Management Act of 2009, which the White House called the “most extensive expansion of land and water conservation in more than a generation.”

The incoming administration has the power to override much of Obama’s Clean Power Plan, and since the Paris Agreement is not a treaty ratified by the Senate, the next administration may ignore it. But his national parks and ban on Arctic drilling will remain, securing a more pristine landscape, as he says, for the next generation.
Criminal Justice Reform – Fixing a Broken System

Most first-term presidents don’t grant many requests from federal prisoners for pardons or clemency. Obama was no different, approving only a few dozen petitions of the more than 8,400 filed during his first four years in the Oval Office. That changed in April 2014, when Obama’s Justice Department announced the launch of the Clemency Initiative. The program was designed to provide relief for many low-level drug offenders with little or no other criminal history sentenced under Ronald Reagan–era drug laws that had since been revised.

“These older, stringent punishments that are out of line with sentences imposed under today’s laws erode people’s confidence in our criminal justice system,” stated Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole.

Criminal justice reform is one of a very few issues to have received bipartisan support during the Obama years, and the Clemency Initiative has been particularly successful. In all, Obama has issued 148 pardons and 1,176 sentence commutations — more than any other president since Lyndon Johnson.

Although some commutations have resulted in sentence reductions for prisoners who will continue to serve time, the bulk have resulted in outright release of inmates who have already served long sentences.

Some groups, such as the NAACP, have accused the process as being too slow and urged the president to issue blanket commutations for large numbers of prisoners. At the same time, during his campaign,Donald Trump seemed to suggest that he would end the Clemency Initiative.

Beneficiaries of Obama’s Clemency Initiative include people like Shauna Barry-Scott, a Youngstown, Ohio, grandmother of 17 who was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for the sale of a small amount of crack cocaine.

Aside from the Clemency Initiative, Obama has not been able to move the needle very far on reforming the criminal justice system. But that hasn’t stopped him from advocating for significant change.

“The United States is home to 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners,” he pointed out in a speech to the NAACP. This high rate of incarceration, he added, has had a high cost for families and taxpayers alike but done little to make the nation safer. It is also, he said, skewed in racial terms. “African-Americans and Latinos make up 30 percent of our population. They make up 60 percent of our inmates.” He added that our criminal justice system isn’t “smart” enough and that we “need to do something about it.”

The very next day, Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit a federal prison. Speaking about the inmates in El Reno Federal Correction Institution in Oklahoma where he was standing, he declared, “We have to make sure that as they do their time and pay back their debt to society, that we are increasing the possibility that they can turn their lives around.”

Aside from the Clemency Initiative, Obama’s efforts to reform the criminal justice system have been limited. As Trump assumes the presidency, even that appears in jeopardy. Trump has expressed skepticism about reducing criminal penalties, and his pick to lead the Justice Department, Sen. Jeff Sessions, was a vocal critic while in the Senate. “The last thing we need to do is a major reduction in penalties,” Sessions said in May of 2016.
PHOTO: President Barack Obama discusses the Iran nuclear agreement with staff and advisors in the Oval Office, July 13, 2015.
Iran – Nuclear Centrifuges, Hostages and a Planeload of Cash

U.S. relations with most Middle Eastern nations have always been complex, and those with Iran — with its potential for nuclear weapons — have been particularly fraught.

Years-long negotiations resulted in a 2015 agreement under which Iran would give up much of its nuclear program in exchange for getting sanctions against it lifted. Iran has agreed to dismantle some nuclear facilities, mothball others, allow international inspection of remaining operations and ship much of its nuclear fuel and waste materials to other countries, including the United States.

But the deal, formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, was not without its detractors. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered an unprecedented speech by a foreign leader to a joint session of Congress. “This is a bad deal,” he said. “It’s a very bad deal. We’re better off without it.” But he would not get his way, as Democrats in the Senate managed to block Republican efforts to kill the deal.

When the nuclear deal was finalized in January 2016, five American prisoners were released by Tehran. Months later, The Wall Street Journal broke the story that as soon as the Americans were released, the United States sent a planeload of cash to Tehran. Some $400 million worth of euros, Swiss francs and other non-U.S. currencies had been piled onto pallets and flown to Iran. To some, it appeared that the United States had paid a tidy ransom for the prisoners.

The State Department quickly insisted that wasn’t true, saying the U.S. had owed the money to Iran for decades to settle a dispute over military hardware purchases. The agency also insisted that the timing of the money transfer was merely “leverage” to ensure their safe release.

“We do not pay ransom. We didn’t here,” concurred Obama in an August news conference. He insisted the money, the prisoners and the nuclear deal really had nothing to do with one another, except that “we actually had diplomatic relations negotiations and conversations with Iran for the first time in several decades.”

Outraged Republicans were not moved by the argument. “If it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.” said Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb. “If a cash payment is contingent on a hostage release, it’s a ransom.”

Despite widespread concerns about how enforceable the nuclear deal is, the agreement stands. Economic sanctions against Iran are being reduced step by step as the nation dismantles some of its nuclear infrastructure and agrees to international inspections of its remaining nuclear programs. The goal is to allow peacetime uses of nuclear power without the ability to generate weapons for years to come.

But Trump has blasted the deal and might seek to undermine it. Incoming Vice President Mike Pence has even gone so far as to say the new administration will “rip up” the agreement. That’s possible, but it won’t be easy. Six other nations are parties, and none of them have expressed any desire to alter it. Also, many of the provisions in it have already been set in motion.
PHOTO: President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping walk together at West Lake State Guest House in Hangzhou in eastern China''s Zhejiang province, Sept. 3, 2016.
China Policy – The Unfinished Pivot

The Obama administration planned to shift the focus of foreign policy from decades of attention on the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific region.

To China’s leaders, the United States’ stated desire to maintain peace and security across the Asia-Pacific region didn’t represent an overture to improving relations. It was, they felt, reaffirmation of the long-standing U.S. policy of containment of China. Obama’s stated plan to move more U.S. military assets to the region from other parts of the world did little to assuage that interpretation.

China has responded by aggressively undertaking a program of island building in the South China Sea. Small islands and reefs have been enlarged and turned into complex military bases. Dangerous contacts between U.S. and Chinese fighter jets and naval vessels in the region have increased. China recently paraded a new missile capable of hitting targets thousands of miles from its borders, nicknamed the Guam Killer because it could reach the massive U.S. military installation at Guam.

Chinese aggression has taken other forms as well.

The United States has accused China of undertaking state-sponsored cyberwarfare against American government, military and corporate computer systems. China denies this and accuses the United States of engaging in cyberattacks against it.

Obama’s most sought-after goal in the region, the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, appears to be dead in the water.

The 12-nation agreement was designed to “promote economic growth … raise living standards … and promote transparency, good governance, and enhanced labor and environmental protections,” according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

Notably, China is not included in the agreement and has signaled only faint interest in it. But at this point, that doesn’t really matter. Trump has called the TPP “a potential disaster” and has promised the U.S will withdraw from it “on Day One” of his administration.

For all those reasons, along with a failure to engage North Korea in any meaningful way, Obama’s pivot toward a foreign policy focus on the Asia-Pacific region appears to be far from complete.
Immigration – An Unrealized Promise

As a candidate, Obama promised comprehensive immigration reform in his first year.

“I cannot guarantee that it is going to be in the first 100 days. But what I can guarantee is that we will have in the first year an immigration bill that I strongly support and that I’m promoting,” he told Univision host Jorge Ramos. But immigration was pushed to the back burner by more pressing needs.

It wasn’t until 2010 that an important step was made for thousands of undocumented immigrants. A bill was finally introduced not for overarching immigration reform but for those brought to the United States as children. The Dream Act offered a way to get right with the law, work and get on a pathway to citizenship after passing background checks and paying fees. But Congress, which did away with similar bills in 2001 and 2007, stalled. Finally, Obama took unilateral action in 2012, calling the action a “stop gap” to allow Congress to work on legislation.

In 2013 the Senate introduced a bipartisan bill to tackle the issue affecting more than 11 million lives. It would have given an additional $30 billion to border security, reformed the visa system and allowed undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows. But then–Speaker of the House John Boehner refused to bring the legislation up for a vote after vocal opposition from a Republican minority.

A year later, with still no vote in the House, Obama again took matters into his own hands. By the end of the year, he expanded deportation relief to a larger set of people brought to the U.S. as children and to parents of American citizens. But a challenge against this action made its way to the Supreme Court, which upheld the lower court decision that it was an unconstitutional use of power.

Although Obama wanted to see immigration reform and made it a major campaign issue, not acting on it in the first year, when Democrats controlled both chambers, appeared to be a costly strategy. Using up his capital on health care reform created chasms in the Congress that could not be overcome.
PHOTO: Cuban President Raul Castro lifts the arm of President Barack Obama at the conclusion of their joint news conference at the Palace of the Revolution, in Havana, Cuba, March 21, 2016.
Cuba – Acknowledging a Neighbor

In 2014, Obama took an unexpected action: He opened up dialogue, negotiations and a relationship with Cuba, the island only 90 miles away from the Florida coast that had been off limits for decades.

On Dec. 17 of that year, Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro — speaking to their people at the same time from their respective capitals — announced a new way forward, pledging to reopen diplomatic channels after a prisoner exchange and the humanitarian release of U.S. contractor Alan Gross. Negotiations to accomplish this exchange and open relations between the two countries in general came at the urging of Pope Francis.

Over the next two years, the U.S. and Cuba relaxed travel restrictions, came to trade agreements, opened up commercial flights between the two countries, relaxed restrictions on cigars and rum being taken back to the U.S. for personal use and even reopened embassies.

Obama traveled to the island in March 2016 — the first time in nearly a century a sitting American president visited Cuba.

Obama told ABC’s David Muir, “I think it is very important for the United States not to view ourselves as the agents of change here but rather to encourage and facilitate Cubans themselves to bring about changes ... We want to make sure that whatever changes come about are empowering Cubans.”

Although Obama has said he worked to make the re-establishment of diplomatic ties “irreversible,” the policies he has put in place could be easily undone by the incoming administration because the moves were made through executive action and regulatory changes, the latter of which were more formal but can still be reversed. That doesn’t mean they will be. Trump has backed off the issue since the election.
PHOTO: President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin engage in an icy stare down at the G-20 Summit in China on Sept. 5, 2016.
Relations With Russia – A Reset Gets Overloaded

Obama had been in office for less than two months when a State Department photo op went horribly, hilariously and presciently wrong all at the same time. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, stood in front of the cameras with a little yellow box that had a shiny red button on it. The prop was supposed to represent a deliberate effort to reset relations. In fact, the box was labeled in English with the word “reset.” But the Russian word on the box, Lavrov noted, was wrong. “Peregruzka” doesn’t mean “reset,” he pointed out. It means “overload.” For the next eight years, the plan to reset U.S.-Russian relations simply got overloaded with too many fundamental disagreements.

For a brief time it seemed a reset was possible. In March 2010, Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed an arms agreement reducing the number of long-range nuclear-tipped missiles each nation would maintain. But Medvedev’s presidency was short-lived, and Vladimir Putin muscled his way back to power for a third term in an ethically questionable election.

Putin and Obama never saw eye to eye, literally or figuratively. Their 6-inch height difference (Putin is 5 foot 7, and Obama is 6 foot 1) provided a perfect physical metaphor for the awkward relationship the two endured.

The United States and Russia were able to work together to remove and destroy chemical weapons in Syria. But Obama’s earlier decision not to enforce his “red line” warning to Syria about using those weapons was a weak move, to Putin’s way of thinking. This event fell in the middle of a series of tit-for-tat actions between the two nations.The Russians routinely tested America’s defenses by flying military aircraft and sailing submarines deep into America’s defense zones and tested missile systems that the U.S. charged violated nonproliferation treaties.

Then in July 2013, Putin found a way to really stick it to the United States. Edward Snowden, a computer technician who had been working for a government contractor, managed to steal hundreds of thousands of pages of classified information from the National Security Agency. He skipped the country and made his way to Russia by way of Hong Kong before the U.S. knew what had happened. Putin granted Snowden political asylum in Russia, where he remains. Obama was so incensed by Putin’s move that he canceled a planned meeting the men were supposed to have in Moscow.

When Russia moved into the Ukrainian territory of Crimea in 2014 and announced it was annexing the region from the faltering Ukrainian government, the United States took the matter to the U.N. Security Council, but Russia vetoed efforts to formally declare the move illegal. The G-8 economic conference kicked Russia out of the club, and Obama dismissed Russia as a “regional power.”

Tensions flared even higher in the summer of 2014, when a surface-to-air missile destroyed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, killing all 298 people on board. The flight had been crossing high above eastern Ukraine, about 30 miles from the border with Russia when it was brought down by a Soviet-made BUK missile.

Further angering the Obama administration, in 2015 the Russians began an airborne bombing campaign in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Russia said it wanted to work with the U.S. to end the Syrian conflict, but the two sides had wildly differing opinions on how that should be done.

Most recently, the American intelligence community accused the Russian government of waging cyberwarfare to try to influence the 2016 presidential election, though Moscow denies it.

For his part, Trump has praised Putin as “smart” and “highly respected” and a “strong leader” that he believes he can get along with. What that means for relations between the United States and Russia is unclear.
PHOTO: President Obama wipes away a tear as he speaks about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, during a press briefing at the White House, Dec. 14, 2012.
Gun Violence and Gun Control

Obama was in office less than two months when he was confronted with an issue that would dog him throughout his eight years as president. A man with a gun killed 10 people and himself in Alabama. Similar incidents would happen again and again and again.

Fourteen people were killed in Binghamton, New York, in April of 2009.

Thirteen dead and 30 injured at Fort Hood, Texas, in November of that year.

Six killed and 14 injured, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona, January 2011.

Twenty-six died in the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012.

Nine people killed in June of 2015 at a prayer meeting in a Charleston, South Carolina, church.

And there were more. Mass shootings of innocent victims made headlines on an almost routine basis.

Through tears and anger and even breaking into an impromptu rendition of “Amazing Grace” at the memorial service in that South Carolina church, Obama has tried in vain to push this nation toward what he calls “common-sense gun laws.” Having too few allies in Congress and facing a well-financed and dedicated opposition, no such change in federal law came about during his terms. In fact, every time the subject received a public airing, gun sales typically rose.

Although Second Amendment advocates were generally never fans of Obama’s, he cemented their opposition in April 2008 as he was campaigning for office. Speaking at a private fundraiser in San Francisco, he was talking about the economic desperation of residents in Rust Belt towns who had spent decades watching their jobs disappear.

“It’s not surprising then, they get bitter,” he empathized. But then came the phrase that would end any hope of achieving any substantial reform of gun laws during his presidency. “They cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them … as a way to explain their frustrations.” Although Obama went on a Rust Belt apology tour after the leaked audio made headlines, the damage was done.

Seven and half years into his presidency, Obama had made public statements about mass shootings in America a dozen times. He could no longer rein in his anger when addressing the nation after nine people were killed in October of 2015 at a community college in Roseburg, Oregon.

“There’s been another mass shooting in America,” he bluntly began his statement in the White House Press Room. As he spoke, the conjoined emotions of frustration and anger overcame him. His voice grew tense. With uncomfortably long pauses between each sentence, the president lectured the nation. “Our thoughts and prayers are not enough. It’s not enough. It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel.“

Three months later, Obama issued a series of executive actions to strengthen the background check system for online and gun show sales, increase mental health funding and enlarge staffing for the FBI. "Congress still needs to act," he said. "Once Congress gets on board with common-sense gun safety measures, we can reduce gun violence a whole lot.”

But Capitol Hill would not be boarding that train. “Rather than focus on criminals and terrorists, he goes after the most law-abiding of citizens,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. “His words and actions amount to a form of intimidation that undermines liberty.”

Obama has expressed dismay at his inability to move the debate on gun laws, telling the BBC that he finds the stymied debate “distressing” and it has left him the “most frustrated” of any issue he has faced.
PHOTO: President Obama presides over his National Security Council in the Situation Room of the White House on Dec. 1, 2014.
The Reluctant Warrior – Iraq, Afghanistan and Terrorism

The United States had been at war in Iraq for nearly six years when Barack Obama became president. Thousands of U.S. troops had died there, and many Americans were wondering what all the bloodshed was for. Yes, Saddam Hussein was gone. But his capture, trial and hanging had happened years earlier. A surge of U.S. military personnel the previous year was somewhat successful, and President George W. Bush was in the process of drawing down America’s military force there. But the conflict had degenerated into a tribal battle for control of the country between Shiite and Sunni Muslims and was far from resolved.

At the same time, America was still involved in an ever-escalating conflict with the Taliban in Afghanistan. As 2008 drew to a close, the conflict had destabilized the Afghan government. More than 30,000 U.S. troops were on the ground there, and hundreds had already been killed.

Bringing these twin challenges to an end was a central point of Obama’s campaign. Little more than a month after his inauguration, Obama announced that American forces would be entirely out of Iraq by the end of 2011.

Obama decided that the best way to end the war in Afghanistan was to first increase U.S. troop levels, reaching about 71,000 by the end of 2009. By then, more than 850 had lost their lives.

Things only got worse for the American forces in Afghanistan. As many as 100,000 U.S. troops would become part of the coalition force as their leadership changed through a succession of generals, each of whom failed to live up to expectations. The United States poured billions of dollars into the effort, which included plans to rebuild the infrastructure of the war-torn nation and its military forces.

Obama’s goal in Afghanistan was that the U.S. could one day walk away, leaving behind an Afghanistan that not only had good roads and power grids but also its own military capable of fighting off any insurgency. As he packs up his things and prepares to move out of the White House, success in Afghanistan is one thing he won’t be taking with him. When Trump becomes the nation’s 45th president, he will have to grapple with the continuing conflict.

In the middle of all of this, 11 years to the day after the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., came the the murder of U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Critics sharply attacked the Obama administration for failing to provide sufficient security at the small facility, which was easily overwhelmed by Islamic militants from Ansar al-Sharia. Congress held a year’s worth of hearings about the attack. Hillary Clinton testified that, in her role as secretary of state at the time, she accepted responsibility for the insufficient security. The issue refused to fade away, however, and she continued to face scrutiny for the attack even as she ran for president in 2016.

Meanwhile, the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq has fueled some of the harshest criticism of Obama’s policies. The country failed to develop a functional government and degenerated into civil war, leaving large areas of the nation effectively ungoverned.

In 2014 that vacuum was filled by a militant group that practiced the Wahhabi doctrine of Sunni Islam: ISIS.

The underestimation of its potency is among the president’s greatest miscalculations in the Middle East. Having been focused for so many years on al-Qaeda, Obama once dismissed ISIS as a “JV team,” telling The New Yorker in January 2014 that the group was “jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian.”

In fact, ISIS, bolstered by a number of Saddam’s former military leaders, planned to carve out a theocracy, or caliphate, from the ungoverned remnants of Iraq and the increasingly lawless areas of eastern Syria.

As ISIS gained control of oil fields and major Iraqi cities like Mosul and Tikrit and marched ever closer to Baghdad, Obama faced the choice of letting virtually all of Iraq fall or sending American troops back into a country he had withdrawn them from just a few years earlier. This time they would not go in as combat troops but as advisers to guide the offensives of Iraqi and Kurdish fighters.

Complicating all this even further, the neighboring nation of Syria has been engaged in civil war since the Arab Spring swept through the region in 2011. When a rebel group calling itself the Free Syrian Army sought to overthrow Assad’s government, he responded in brutal fashion by unleashing powerful weaponry that didn’t distinguish between the rebels and innocent civilians.

Then came rumors that the Assad regime had chemical weapons and was planning to use them to combat the uprising. Obama made clear at a White House news conference that he wouldn't stand for it. “We have been very clear to the Assad regime but also to other players on the ground that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus,” he stated.

Almost exactly one year later, in August of 2013, the Syrian military attacked a rebel stronghold on the outskirts of Damascus, killing 1,500 civilians, including hundreds of children. Video of their bodies writhing in excruciating pain as they succumbed to the effects of poisonous sarin gas horrified the world.

Instead of acting unilaterally, Obama decided that he would first ask Congress for authority to launch military action in Syria. The gambit worked, because Congress and the American people demonstrated little appetite for military action in Syria, and the U.S. and Russia orchestrated the peaceful removal and destruction of 1,300 tons of chemical weapons.

Many critics consider his refusal to act on the red line he drew a moment of weak leadership. “I don’t know what the hell went into that decision,” Leon Panetta, Obama’s former defense secretary and CIA director, about the decision. “The credibility of the United States is on the line.”

But Obama said he feels it is one of his best foreign policy decisions. “I’m very proud of this moment,” he told The Atlantic in an interview published in April 2016. Without firing a shot, he believes, he accomplished exactly what he wanted when he drew that red line: an end to chemical warfare in Syria.

In the fight against ISIS, Obama has unleashed a new and controversial kind of fighting force: drones that can fire missiles with pinpoint precision, taking out a single building or even a moving vehicle.

When it is determined that there is a gathering of ISIS militants or leadership significant enough to warrant an attack, those targets have been removed from the face of the earth. Under Obama’s direction, hundreds of drone strikes have been utilized to combat ISIS.

Drone warfare is perhaps the most potent weapon available to him to achieve his stated goal of relentlessly going after ISIS “until it’s removed from Syria and from Iraq and finally destroyed.”

It is also among the most controversial, because innocent civilians are sometimes caught in the crosshairs. The issue has been so contentious that it has caused some members of the armed forces to write to the president, saying they suffer from PTSD as a result of their role in drone warfare, saying it fuels the “feelings of hatred that ignited terrorism and groups like ISIS.” Some have even resigned their commissions from the armed services in protest.

As Obama leaves office, a senior military official told ABC News that the U.S. air campaign and ground assistance in the battle against ISIS is meeting with success. The Pentagon official said that since the offensive began in 2014, an estimated 50,000 ISIS fighters have been killed. There is no official estimate of the number of civilian casualties.

That doesn’t mean resolution is at hand. ISIS has been particularly adept at using the internet and social media outlets to export its message around the globe, encouraging lone wolf terrorist attacks that have claimed hundreds of civilian lives in many countries, including the United States. The incoming administration will have no choice but to pick up the battle from here.
Guantanamo Bay Remains Open

Although only a few dozen detainees remain at the Guantanamo detention center, the very fact that the facility — which once contained as many as 800 prisoners in the war on terrorism — remains open appears to have broken one of the president’s central campaign promises.

Many detainees were there for years without trial, and at least some were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques defined by the Geneva Conventions as torture. In 2005, Amnesty International called it the “Gulag of our times,” and in 2006 the United Nations called for closure of the facility.

“We cannot stand up before the world and say that there is one set of rules for America and another for everyone else,” Obama said in a campaign speech at DePaul University in 2007. “We will close Guantanamo.”

Just two days after being sworn in as president, Obama tried to do just that. He issued Executive Order 13492, providing for the disposition of the detainees and closure of the facility. But a military judge blocked White House efforts to bring one of the detainees to trial. And the Senate refused to authorize funds to relocate the prisoners. It was the first major defeat for the new president and foreshadowed a rocky relationship with a Capitol Hill that would rarely find common ground with his administration.

Throughout his two terms in office, Obama continued to try to close the facility. As recently as Feb. 23, 2016, the president announced a renewed push. His hope was to have the remaining detainees serve their time in maximum security prisons in the U.S. But Congress has exhibited little taste for the plan to import terrorism detainees, and Obama’s oft-repeated pledge to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay will go unrealized as he leaves office.
PHOTO: President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump shake hands during a transition planning meeting in the Oval Office on Nov. 10, 2016.
The Trump Card – Will the Obama Legacy Endure?

“The risk to all the progress we’ve made was at stake in the election,” Obama admitted in the closing weeks of his second term to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. Trump and Republican leaders in Congress, he noted, “have said that their principal agenda was to undo a lot of this progress.”

From “Obamacare” to environmental policy to Cuba to criminal justice reform, the incoming leadership has vowed to erase much of what has been done under Obama. With Republican control of both houses and the White House, the votes might be there. But in that interview, Obama said he doesn’t think it’s going to be that easy to erase his legacy. On the issue of health care, for example, he takes pride in what he says are the millions of people who have benefited from coverage provided under “Obamacare.” “As long as they continue to get help, I’ll know in my mind that the work we did here had lasting impact” he said.

When prompted by Stephanopoulos to sum up his legacy in one sentence, Obama replied, “President Obama believed deeply in this democracy and the American people.”

Additional Credits
Executive Producer DAN SILVER
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