However, in this pathetic narrative, Obama comes across less as a willful liar than a weak executive who won't assert control over his own foreign policy or even cross out words in a prepared speech that he knows are false. Instead of taking command, he drags his heels on going to war in Syria, gets badgered by his own subordinates and by the neocon-dominated foreign-policy establishment, before finally saying no. Then, Obama doesn't even dare let the American people in on why he made the decision that he did.
The Sullen Teen
I sometimes picture Obama's conduct of foreign policy by envisioning the President as a sullen teen-ager on a family vacation, sitting in the back seat of the car complaining that he'd rather be hanging out with his friends. This unhappy teen lets others do the driving but occasionally throws enough of a temper tantrum to make continuation of the trip impossible.
But Obama's passive-aggressive behavior didn't even change after his "liberation day" on Aug. 31, 2013. He continued to let his subordinates set the direction of his foreign policy. For instance, he agreed to covert weapons deliveries to Syrian rebels, who were operating in tandem with Islamist extremists, including Al Qaeda's Nusra Front, to appease the neocons and the liberal hawks, though that strategy worsened the Syrian bloodshed and drove millions of refugees into Turkey and Europe.
When neocon Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland helped orchestrate the overthrow of Ukraine's elected president in February 2014 and sparked a new and costly Cold War with Russia, Obama again went along.
Obama even joined in demonizing Russian President Vladimir Putin though Putin played key roles in two of Obama's most important foreign policy successes, getting Assad to surrender his chemical weapons arsenal (as a way to defuse that crisis) and persuading Iran to accept tight limits on its nuclear program (arguably Obama's signature diplomatic accomplishment).
Yet, rather than hold back Nuland and her cohorts as they pulled off a "regime change" on Russia's border, Obama let this dangerous policy go forward, amid propagandistic charges of "Russian aggression" and personal insults directed at Putin. A White House spokesman even mocked Putin's tendency to sit with his legs spread.
Last year, when Islamic State terrorists blew up a Russian charter plane over the Sinai killing 224 people, mostly Russian citizens, Obama couldn't resist citing the deaths to chide Putin for having intervened militarily in Syria in support of the government.
At a Dec. 1, 2015 news conference in Paris, Obama expressed his lack of sympathy as part of a bizarre comment in which he faulted Putin for somehow not turning around the Syrian conflict during the previous month while Obama and his allies have been floundering in their "war" against the Islamic State and its parent, Al Qaeda, for years, if not decades.
"The Russians now have been there for several weeks, over a month, and I think fair-minded reporters who looked at the situation would say that the situation hasn't changed significantly," Obama said. "In the interim, Russia has lost a commercial passenger jet. You've seen another jet shot down. There have been losses in terms of Russian personnel. And I think Mr. Putin understands that, with Afghanistan fresh in the memory, for him to simply get bogged down in a inconclusive and paralyzing civil conflict is not the outcome that he's looking for."
It is hard to imagine any other time when a Western leader behaved so callously in the face of a terrorist atrocity. But mocking Putin is always good politics in Official Washington, no matter what the circumstances.
However, Obama's prognosticating skills about a costly Russian failure left a lot to be desired. In early 2016, with Russian air support, the Syrian army notched victory after victory against the Syrian rebels, including Al Qaeda's Nusra Front and the Islamic State. The successes led to a fragile cease-fire and a delicate reopening of peace talks as well as to Putin's surprise announcement that he was withdrawing the bulk of the Russian military force.
Rather than the pointless "quagmire" that Obama smugly foresaw, Putin seemed to have achieved a successful strategic maneuver at relatively modest cost, a marked contrast to Obama's meandering approach to the Syrian crisis in which he has fed the violence by having the CIA deliver weapons while also blocking his advisers' more extreme war plans.
Yet, by failing to level with the American people about the relevant facts and his strategic reasoning, Obama continues to come across as a confused and conflicted chief executive. Though he may have seen his refusal to bomb Syria on Aug. 31, 2013, as his "liberation day," Obama put himself back into captivity over the past two-plus years, shackled at the feet of the neocons and liberal hawks who still dominate Washington's foreign-policy establishment.