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Objective

President Obama has faced a plethora of challenges both at home and abroad during his first term. While some challenges were inherited, the Arab Spring uprisings provided a new opportunity for him to strengthen America's role as a global leader. Much debate has raged over the way in which Obama dealt with the uprisings. Supporters view Obama's foreign policy as a selling point as he moves toward the 2012 elections, while opponents have condemned him as a follower “leading from behind.” Absent in this debate is an objective attempt to both articulate Obama's foreign policy agenda in both a historical and cross-national context, and an effort to analyze Obama's reaction to the Arab Spring uprisings vis-a-vis other state leaders. This article attempts to rectify these problems to better understand whether Obama was a leader or a follower during the Arab Spring.

Methods

We begin with a thorough discussion of Obama's foreign policy approach and then present empirical analysis of original data of all state signals during the Arab Spring uprisings.

Results

Though we find some evidence pointing toward leadership, the bulk of our evidence indicates that Obama was largely either an active spectator or a follower during the uprisings.

Conclusion

We conclude that, at best, Obama showed weak evidence of leadership during the Arab Spring uprisings.