Besides the bloody examples of Iraq and Afghanistan, there is the case of Libya where Obama acceded to the demands of his war hawks, including Secretary Clinton and now-Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power. He committed U.S. air power to remove Muammar Gaddafi (who was later captured and murdered), only to see Libya descend into chaos, violence that has fed Islamic radicalism (including the lethal attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in 2012) and has spread to Mali and other nearby African countries.
Obama's Real Failure
If Obama is to be criticized for his handling of the Middle East, it would make more sense to excoriate him for not making a clean break with the neocon strategies of the Bush years and for not purging the U.S. government of hawks who are too eager to use military force.
Rather than adopt realistic approaches toward achieving political solutions, Obama has often caved in when confronted with pressure from Official Washington's still influential neocons and the mainstream media that follows their lead.
For instance, Obama could accept help from Iran and Russia in achieving a negotiated settlement of the Syrian civil war but that would require him getting down off his high horse about how "Assad must go." This month's Syrian elections -- despite their shortcomings -- showed that Assad retains significant public support from the Alawites, Shiites, Christians, secularists, and even some Sunnis.
But a workable peace negotiation also would require Obama to acknowledge that Shiite-ruled Iran has legitimate interests in the region, and he might have to shake hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the current bete noire of all the smart people in Washington.
Rather than dealing with the real world where the United States might have to settle for the best of the worst options, there are signs that Obama is again falling in line with the preferred neocon strategy of expanded U.S. military assistance to Syria's supposedly "moderate" opposition, thus widening and prolonging the civil war and resulting in more chaos and death.
The notion that Syria's "moderates" can somehow fight a two-front war against both Assad's army and the Islamists who have been the most effective force against Assad has become the latest wishful thinking of Official Washington's best and brightest, similar to their earlier certainty that the U.S. invading army in Iraq would be greeted with flowers and candies.
As the Washington Post's David Ignatius -- often a mouthpiece for U.S. intelligence -- put it on Wednesday...
"The administration is finally developing a serious strategy for Syria, which will include a CIA-trained guerrilla army to fight both President Bashar al-Assad and al-Qaeda extremists. In addition, (if skittish Arab allies agree), U.S. Special Operations forces will train Free Syrian Army units to create a stabilization force for liberated areas. If the ambitious plan moves forward, the hope is to train 9,600 fighters by the end of this year."
Similar delusional thinking about a two-front war has been at the forefront of the State Department's deliberations on Syria. Ex-U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert S. Ford wrote on the New York Times' op-ed page on Wednesday...
"...with partner countries from the Friends of Syria group like France, Britain, Germany, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, we must ramp up sharply the training and material aid provided to the moderates in the armed opposition."
But it has been Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia that have been most directly implicated in helping al-Qaeda-linked jihadists to flood Syria in the first place. Their thinking was that it would be better to have Sunni extremists controlling Syria than Assad because the Sunni powers and Israel see the spread of Iran's regional influence as their greatest threat. [See Consortiumnews.com's "Israel Sides with Syrian Jihadists."]
There is also the question of whether there remains any real nucleus of "moderate" Syrian rebels who could carry out this two-front war. Last September, 11 leading rebel groups repudiated the U.S.-backed civilian opposition and sided with al-Qaeda-connected Islamists in their demands for a religious state to replace Assad's more secular regime.
The New York Times reported then that the rebel groups were "distancing themselves from the exile opposition's call for a democratic, civil government to replace Mr. Assad" and urging "all military and civilian groups in Syria to 'unify in a clear Islamic frame.'" [See Consortiumnews.com's "Syria Rebels Embrace Al-Qaeda."]
Going back at least to 2003, this more complete -- and more troubling -- narrative would better inform the debate that Official Washington should be having about the twin crises in Iraq and Syria, a discussion that should not shy away from the devastating role that the neocons have played in undermining real U.S. interests in the Middle East and around the world.
However, if you rely on the mainstream media, you can look forward to the more truncated narrative, the one that the neocons prefer, the one that starts in 2011 and pins the blame on President Obama.