22 January 2009
Robin Niblett

Dr Robin Niblett CMG

Director, Chatham House


As he embarks on his Presidency in the teeth of one of the most brutal economic recessions in America's history, President Obama called on Americans in his inaugural speech to emulate the 'spirit of service' of their ancestors and to accept a 'new era of responsibility'. He also called on America's politicians to set aside the 'petty grievances and false promises' which have grid-locked US policy-making and that were partly responsible for the crisis the nation now faces.

It is just possible that the country's financial melt-down will now give President Obama the chance to carry out one of the largest investments in America's economic regeneration in over 70 years. If so, America could once again lead principally by example rather than by diplomatic weight and military force.

President Obama also spoke to the world, stating that America would be guided by its 'principles once more' and that its security emanates from 'the justness of our cause' as well as 'the force of our example.' But, conscious of the responsibility that he carries and the intentions of some of America's enemies, he reminded Americans, as President Bush often did, that 'our nation is at war'. The critical difference is that he did not say America was at war against terrorism - which is, after all, a dogma - but against 'a far-reaching network of violence and hatred'.

Overall, it is to be hoped that the magnanimous self-confidence and pragmatism which were the themes of President Obama's inaugural address will also now be the hallmarks of his presidency. If so, this could herald a fundamental shift in how America wields its power - leading where it is needed, sharing leadership where partners have as much or more to offer and supporting international institutions where the need for collective response outweighs the value of American leadership.

President Obama's stature has continued to grow since his election victory. It offers him a strong platform from which to tackle both the difficult domestic and international challenges that he and his administration now confront.

More Resources


Thursday 22 January 2009 17:30 to 18:30
Regaining the Initiative: Opportunities for the US Under President Obama
Dr Robin Niblett, Director, Chatham House, evaluates current US foreign policy, assess promising areas of future US influence, and suggest specific ways for US engagement to impact on global and regional challenges.


The Limits and Potential of Obama's Foreign Policy: Living Up To Expectations
Dr Robin Niblett, The World Today, January 2009

US Policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan: Antidote to Insurgency
Ayesha Khan, The World Today, January 2009

Bringing Hegemony Back In: The United States and International Order
Ian Clark, International Affairs, January 2009

United States Presidency and Europe: Over to You, Europe
Dr Robin Niblett, The World Today, December 2008