Six years after taking office amid a deep economic recession, President Barack Obama is looking back on his successes with a smile.
“I’m proud of saving the economy,” Obama told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria in an interview on Tuesday when asked what he is most proud of accomplishing as president.
Obama conceded that “we still have a long way to go,” but said that his administration stabilized the economy and laid a “new foundation to move forward.”
Just a week before, Obama touted in his State of the Union address the “fastest economic growth in over a decade” and pledged to build on those gains by focusing on expanding the middle class.
“I think we’ve moved the trend lines in the right direction but we’ve still got a long way to go on that,” Obama said.
Unemployment is at its lowest since 2008, the stock market is surging and a host of other economic indicators show the U.S. making a comeback – a comeback Obama is flaunting and taking credit for more and more as he embarks on the fourth quarter of his presidency and looks to define his legacy.
But Obama’s message of economic recovery has been fiercely criticized by Republicans who say the economy has been growing too slowly and argue many Americans have yet to feel the kick of an economy on the upswing.
Obama wouldn’t say directly what his defining and enduring legacy would be.
“Let somebody else answer that question,” he said.
Even without a direct answer, Obama’s list of the proudest moments of his presidency make it clear he hopes to be remembered for steering the U.S. out of the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression, for making good on his commitment to withdraw American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and for repositioning the U.S. in the world through diplomatic initiatives that mark a major shift from his predecessor’s foreign policy.
“Sometimes progress is incremental, but when I look at overall, the steps that we’ve taken, I believe they are the right ones,” Obama said. “And I am very confident that America is stronger, more prosperous, safer, and more influential today than it was when I took office.”
Those contentions are far from settled, though, particularly on the international front as the U.S. stares down new and old challenges.
Proponents of a more forceful foreign policy continue to castigate Obama for underestimating ISIS, failing to reach an agreement on a residual U.S. force in Iraq and not doing enough in Syria to oppose President Bashar el-Assad and bolster moderate opposition forces early on. And Republicans are pouncing on Obama for the increasingly tense geopolitical rivalry with Russia, asserting that Obama’s approach to dealing with Vladimir Putin was too naïve.
Obama is also facing pushback from Republicans and some Democrats for his rapprochement with Cuba, which Obama also touted in his interview with Zakaria.
His wager on diplomacy faces perhaps its toughest test yet in the coming months as his administration looks to lock in an agreement with Iran to curb its nuclear program – a diplomatic foray to which Obama has devoted significant political capital both at home and abroad and which he acknowledged earlier in January only has a “probably less than 50-50” chance of success.
But speaking with Zakaria in New Delhi, India after a productive three-day visit, Obama also pointed to his work to strengthen partnerships with Asian partners – trading partners, specifically – including with India.
“Strengthening alliances with countries like India, where there’s just enormous potential, and sometimes we don’t pay a lot of attention to it, but I’ve been paying a lot of attention to it. Because I think that our future prosperity and security is going to be tied up with how we’re doing with 1.2 billion aspiring Indians who share our values and share democracy with us,” Obama said.