Obama: More George H.W. Bush Than George W. Bush?

Despite his campaign style and oratory, the 44th president has been more of a transactional than transformative leader, says Joseph Nye.

In the June issue of The Atlantic, Harvard political scientist Joseph Nye graded the presidents on foreign policy in an article asking "Do Presidents Really Steer Foreign Policy?" and examining their leadership styles.

Monday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, he was asked to grade the one recent president he'd left off the list: President Obama.

"The only fair answer is that I don't know and no one knows," said Nye. Obama would have to be scored as incomplete.

"What's interesting is that Obama comes in in 2008 sounding very transformational," Nye said. "... In fact, he's been very transactional."

"I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. I think that being more like George H.W. Bush than George W. Bush is probably a good thing," he added. Given that Nye graded the elder Bush's foreign policy record as deserving of a flat A and his son's record as earning but a D+, that seems an understatement.

"But it's also unclear where this is all going to turn out," Nye continued. "I think if you look at the Middle East today, you have to see it as a set of revolutions, not an Arab spring. It will probably take 20 years to play out. And if you think back historically to let's say the French Revolution and you imagine that in 1789 you were going to predict whether a corporal from Corsica would lead French troops to the Nile, people would have said you're crazy. We have no idea how this Middle Eastern revolution is going to play out. What Obama did is make a big bet in backing Tahrir Square ... and say[ing] I am going to be on the side of history by going with this younger generation."

See what grades Nye gave the other presidents:

Presented by

Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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