Ideally, he would have been hailing triumphant forward strides along the path to peace in the Middle East, or basking in the glow of a recently-inked peace deal.
That was his goal two years ago when he first took the podium at the UN's headquarters on New York's East River, confidently predicting that what had eluded countless US presidents before him would be achieved within two years.
Obama had it easy then. After eight years of George W Bush, who ignored the UN in launching the Iraq war and was consistently withering in his assessment of the institution's usefulness, the world was very ready for Barack Obama. As Stewart Patrick of the Council of Foreign Relations has written, Obama promised a "new era of engagement" and "had his audience at hello".
Last year the talks between the Israelis and Palestinians were still alive, just, and Obama was still able to bask in the new atmosphere of co-operation between the world's only superpower and the rest of us.
There was much to celebrate yesterday: a resolute UN presence in the Ivory Coast which stood up to Laurent Gbagbo's attempt to ignore election results; The UN-led referendum that created South Sudan from the ruins of two decades of conflict, and of course the Arab spring. Twelve months at the same forum, Tunisia, Egypt and Libya were all represented by now-departed dictators. It has, as Mr Obama said, been an extraordinary year. But not in the Middle East.
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