Leader, Follower, or Spectator? The Role of President Obama in the Arab Spring Uprisings

Daniel S. Morey, Clayton L. Thyne, Sarah L. Hayden, Michael B. Senters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1185-1201
Number of pages17
JournalSocial Science Quarterly
Issue number5
StatePublished - Dec 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (all)


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