Putin's Syria mission forms new rifts in Obama's exhausted, demoralized national security team

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…

In senior meetings, some of Obama’s top national security officials have pressed for a bolder response to Putin’s muscle-flexing in Syria. They include Kerry, who has argued for establishing a no-fly zone in Syria, an option Obama recently suggested is “half-baked.”

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.”