New Delhi: Political leaders in the last months of office become anxious about their historical evaluation. The Opposition bothers them less. When Manmohan Singh left the prime ministry, he couldn’t have been very hopeful about historical judgement. It has been kinder than expected.

There is consensus that Manmohan Singh was a fine Finance Minister, the finest thus far perhaps. His record as Prime Minister is chequered. The Indo-US nuclear deal will remain the capstone of his two terms. He will be cruelly assessed though for permitting 10 Janpath to overwhelm him in other matters and for failing to pursue reforms.

How will History judge President Barack Obama who has some months left in office?

This writer was not hopeful about Obama at the start of his presidency. He may have been the exception. Hope triumphed reason in his case for much of the rest of the world. He was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for future contribution to peace as the United States’ President. It was unprecedented and frankly bizarre.

How does he finally fare between this writer’s low expectation and the Nobel Prize Committee’s extraordinary hopes? The answer is contained in the question: Somewhere in between, and likelier on the low side.

The US presidency usually succeeds with one big idea that can cover two terms. Abraham Lincoln tops in this respect. He abolished slavery and saved the Union and was assassinated at the close of the civil war in the beginning of his second term. A near number two to Lincoln is Franklin D. Roosevelt who is celebrated for the New Deal.

Presidents like Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, etc, are also remembered for singular achievements. Reagan won the Cold War and brought down the Soviet Union. Clinton spearheaded America’s economic recovery. The phrase, “The economy, stupid”, goes back to his election campaign.

There is nothing so singular that President Obama can boast of. He had presidential triumphs to be sure. His administration finally hunted down Osama Bin Laden. He made the critical opening to Iran and concluded a less critical though highly symbolic peace with Cuba, which he is visiting as this piece is being written.

All these, however, do not total up to something big and unique, though they carried the potential to stamp Obama’s name in large letters in History. So what didn’t he do right?

Cuba and Bin Laden admittedly had limited potentials. Obama might be hoping that his Cuba visit helps his party in the presidential election. That is low politicking and deserves no historical recognition. Bin Laden’s death was overdue. He had to be brought to justice. No greatness is involved in doing your duty.

Iran was a mighty move. It opened alternative strategic routes to the Middle East for the United States. The stranglehold of Sunni power on US politics could have been overcome. Obama never seriously explored these possibilities.

Obama by his inaction permitted Russia to take advantage of Iran’s new-found legitimacy. Russia made its presence felt in Syria. It may have been a worthwhile outcome but it happened by default. Obama gets no historical credits here.

These failed opportunities overall suggest that President Obama is not a consummate President. He has lacked the big vision of Lincoln, Reagan and Clinton. Without doubt, he is one of the brightest minds to occupy the White House in recent times. His intelligence and grasp of complexities are astonishing.

At the same time, he has lacked the drive and energy to convert his intelligence and understanding into sound policies. Somewhere, the self-awareness as the United States’ first black President has choked his presidency.

President Obama seems to operate between two extremes. On one hand, his African-American background has made him circumspect. An inner calculation seems forever to be running in his head as to how white America will react to his policies. He forgets that voters chose him partly for his colour and a great deal more for his intelligence and perceived compassion.

His intelligence has taken him to the other extreme of arrogance. All democracies around the world suffer from dysfunction. Obama has made American politics more dysfunctional by refusing a bipartisan approach with Republicans. His nomination of a US Supreme Court judge to replace the late Antonin Scalia in an election year has become the proverbial red rag to the bull. He should graciously have permitted his successor to make the appointment.

President Obama will leave office without a big idea to his name. In years to come, he will be down-rated and scarcely remembered. If with his generous advantages he could not make the cut, it will be harder for other blacks to follow his footsteps in several decades.

A common thread runs through the careers of President Obama and Manmohan Singh. They would both have been better off as tenured university professors. In consequence, their respective countries would have been better off too.