President Barack Obama’s trip to Asia this past week seemed to push the “legacy” cliche button in the minds of editors everywhere. I’ve lost track of how many times I was asked about it, and, embarrassingly, the question took me by surprise the first several times. We’re still six months from the midterms, after all.
For right now, at least, a more interesting question to ask might be: In national security and foreign policy, how has Obama set the stage so that he and his team can construct a legacy over the next two years? Presidential administrations always deny that they think in legacy terms, but they do—from at least the moment during their first term that they see polls that make them believe their re-election is likely.
For Obama, assessing this stage-setting involves two elements: the 2008-vintage pledges he’s stuck with, and the ways that American opportunities in the world have changed since then.