Even the most forgiving judge of Barack Obama, one willing to overlook his preference for chipping onto the sunlit greens of Martha’s Vineyard rather than brooding in the fluorescent glare of the Situation Room, must admit that the President has sometimes been a thick-tongued steward of his own foreign policy. How did the author of “A More Perfect Union” become the author of “The world has always been messy”? Obama, who prides himself on late-night preparation, unshakable rationality, and a writerly ear, is compiling an anthology of botched pronouncements that have, at best, muddied his intentions. August, 2012: “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.” September, 2013: “I didn’t set a red line. The world set a red line.” August, 2014: “I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. We don’t have a strategy yet.”
After six years in office, Obama broadcasts his world-weariness with wan gestures and pauses, with loose moments in the White House press room. The world has stubbornly denied him his ambition to transcend its cruelties, pivot smartly to the East, and “do some nation-building here at home.” Obama’s halting cool at the lectern now reads too often as weakness, and when he protests against the charges of weakness he can seem just tired. As the Middle East disintegrates and a vengeful cynic in the Kremlin invades his neighbor, Obama has offered no full and clarifying foreign-policy vision.