On March 20, 2003, the United States invaded Iraq. On April 9, Baghdad fell, ending Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical rule. 

The effect of this victory seemed to transform the globe.

In August 2003, Libya accepted responsibility for past terrorism and offered restitution as well as agreeing to conform with non-proliferation commitments. In 2003, the Iranians also suspended their nuclear weapons program, though they continued to work on uranium enrichment projects. In November 2003, the Rose Revolution swept Georgia, bringing democracy to that country.Over New Years from 2004 to 2005, the Orange Revolution brought democracy to Ukraine. In March and April 2005, the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon reduced the influence of Syria in that country and bolstering a democratic tide.

Savoring these development as well as President Bush’s reelection, neoconservatives were eager to trumpet all these developments as evidence of the brilliance of their plan. Four years later, most people would be skeptical that a cause and effect relationship existed between Iraq and any of those developments, much less all of them.

In retrospect, this period was not a transformational moment in human history, but rather just a happy confluence of (temporarily) positive events. The fact of the matter is that history tends to move slowly, on the back of deep currents that are difficult to discern from within the stream There are transformational moment, but they are almost always best appreciated in retrospect.

With this in mind, what can we say about the “Obama effect”?Some pundits are ready to give credit to the President to the victory of the March 14 coalition in Lebanon. And indeed, some early polling does suggest that Obama’s speech in Cairo on June 4 improved the position of the United States in the region.

But ultimately, this sort of assessment is more a testament to over-estimates of our influence. The desire to render global developments as consequences of American decisions and actions is fundamentally flawed. At the very least, it is too early to make final assessments of the impact of Obama’s speech. More broadly, we ought to remain skeptical of arguments that give credit or blame to the United States for events that are almost certainly primarily driven by local dynamics.

Dr. Bernard I. Finel, an Atlantic Council contributing editor, is a senior fellow at the American Security Project. This essay previously appeared as ASP’s Flash Point blog.