Demoralized Obama natsec team grumbles: He's too weak and passive towards Putin

Maybe so, but what about his bold, assertive leadership in standing up to America’s real enemy, climate change?

Even this guy’s own deputies won’t defend him anymore.

Current and former Obama officials say the president’s reluctance to respond more assertively against Putin is signaling U.S. weakness and indecision. “We’re just so reactive,” said one senior administration official. “There’s just this tendency to wait” and see what steps other actors take…

Sources familiar with administration deliberations said that Obama’s West Wing inner circle serves as a brick wall against dissenting views. The president’s most senior advisers — including National Security Adviser Susan Rice and White House chief of staff Denis McDonough — reflect the president’s wariness of escalated U.S. action related to Syria or Russia and, officials fear, fail to push Obama to question his own deeply rooted assumptions…

A former Cold War nuclear deterrence expert, Defense Secretary Ash Carter has fretted that the U.S. isn’t standing up firmly to Putin’s provocations. And CIA Director John Brennan has complained that Putin is bombing Syrian rebel fighters covertly backed by his agency with seeming impunity.

“The optics are that we’re backing off,” said a former Obama official who handled foreign policy issues. “It’s not like we can’t exert pressure on these guys, but we act like we’re totally impotent.”

The big loser in the piece turns out to be Kerry, who’s a putz twice over — once for wanting a no-fly zone in Syria, a nutty escalation with Russia now that their planes are already in the air there, and twice for believing that Obama’s nuclear deal/fiasco with Iran might make Tehran more open to negotiating over Syria. In reality, Iran was plotting to rescue Assad by bringing Russia into the war on his side even before the agreement with the U.S. had been signed. As noted last week, the head of the Quds Force landed in Moscow to make his pitch to Putin for a Russian intervention just 10 days after the deal had finally been sealed. That’s U.S. incompetence in a nutshell. The chief value of the nuclear deal to both sides wasn’t that it would disarm Iran but that it would disarm the United States, making military action against Iran politically impossible so long as it didn’t commit any (obvious) violations of the terms. Obama and Kerry thought that olive branch might encourage Iran to come to the table on other matters, starting with Syria; Iran, evidently, saw the olive branch instead as a reason to stay away from the table and double down on military solutions, secure in the belief that Obama wouldn’t dare counter them with force now. They were right. Obama’s “indecision” in Syria is due not only to his passivity vis-a-vis more aggressive players but to his naivete in thinking that rapprochement with the U.S. was worth more to Iran (and Russia) than protecting their regional interests.

Via Newsbusters, here’s a clip from “Morning Joe” this a.m. of Willie Geist and David Ignatius commenting on something from Obama’s interview with “60 Minutes” that hasn’t gotten as much attention as it should, namely, Obama defending the failure of his program to train a Syrian rebel army by saying he was skeptical of it from the start. Says Ignatius of O’s comment, “he spoke almost like a man vindicated when a policy of his own administration had collapsed in failure. And he was, he took the line almost of, see, I told you so.” But that’s Obama all over, no? His failures aren’t his failures, they’re your failures because you stupid people were griping at him to do something to help the rebels. The One is unerring, having known all along that the policy would end dismally … even as he was approving it. He’s an incisive foreign policy mind and blameless in his own administration’s failures, even as Syria turns into even more of a hash than it already is right in front of him. That’s some neat trick.

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John Sexton 1:00 PM on February 01, 2023
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