In a must-read Washington Post opinion piece entitled "The costs of Obama’s Syria policy are apparent to everyone but him," Jackson Diehl excoriates Obama's hapless policy shifts in Syria. Declaring that Obama is "fundamentally clueless — or in denial — about the consequences of what historians will surely regard as one of his most fateful errors," i.e. his decision not to respond militarily in 2013 to Assad's use of chemical weapons, Diehl observes:
"Japanese, South Koreans, Singaporeans and even Indians confided that they were convinced that Obama’s failure to use force against the regime of Bashar al-Assad was directly responsible for China’s subsequent burst of aggression in territorial disputes in the East China Sea and South China Sea.
Poles, Lithuanians and French drew a line between the backdown and Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. As for the Sunni Arabs, Turks and Israelis, it is an article of faith that Obama’s decision accelerated the catastrophe that Syria, and much of the rest of the Middle East, has become. They have an obvious point: Hundreds of thousands are dead, the European Union is in danger of crumbling under an onslaught of refugees, and the Islamic State and Assad remain unvanquished."
Diehl goes on to observe that Obama is alone in dismissing this criticism. Referring to Jeffrey Goldberg's recent Atlantic article entitled "The Obama Doctrine," Diehl continues:
"As Goldberg describes it, the president now regards August 2013 as his 'liberation' from a U.S. foreign policy establishment he holds in contempt, along with a 'Washington playbook' that demands military action to uphold American 'credibility.'
. . . .
In fact, despite his protestations, Obama seems to be haunted by his Syrian retreat — so much so that he has concocted a kind of negative doctrine around it. It is, says Goldberg, that the Middle East 'is no longer terribly important to American interests'; that even if it is, there is little the United States can do 'to make it a better place'; and that any attempt to do so leads only to war and 'the eventual hemorrhaging of U.S. credibility and power.'"
Diehl's devastating conclusion:
"Obama is now obliged to fight the Islamic State’s multiplying iterations across the region without any prospect of viable states to replace it. He has few allies and no exit strategy. The 'liberation' from the Middle East that he now celebrates has created a quagmire that the next president will inherit."
However, Diehl fails to provide the reason for Obama's vehement rejection of all this criticism. In fact, the reason is simple: Persons suffering from narcissistic personality disorders are entirely incapable of accepting criticism, and although Obama's problem is not nearly as severe as that of Donald Trump, it is nevertheless unmistakable. As observed by Matthew Continetti in a National Review article entitled "President Obama Is a Political Narcissist":
"Russia announces the withdrawal of its forces from Syria. The decision is a surprise — President Obama is shocked. This is a feeling he experiences often.
He was astonished when Vladimir Putin intervened in the Syrian conflict in 2015. He was startled when ISIS conquered a fair portion of Mesopotamia in 2014. He was jarred when Putin invaded Crimea, and launched a proxy war in eastern Ukraine that same year. Rogue states pursue policies contrary to what Obama the Wise sees as their self-interest, and the presidential response never varies. He is stunned. He is saddened. He is filled with sangfroid.
Bewilderment happens when reality dispels illusions. I used to think President Obama’s illusions were simply the product of his ideology, of his faith in the universality of human reason, in the idea of historical progress, of his ambivalence toward American power. But after reading Jeffrey Goldberg’s epic, absorbing, revealing interview with the president in The Atlantic, I have come to a different conclusion. It’s not just ideology that drives Obama’s cluelessness. It’s narcissism."
Yes, Obama was completely taken by surprise by Putin's announcement of Russia's withdrawal from Syria. But more to the point, unbeknownst to Washington, there is a well-reasoned rationale for Putin's decision. Syria and Iraq no longer exist as nations. Moreover, 30 million stateless Kurds, long persecuted in Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey, are aching for freedom. It would appear that Putin, unlike Obama, is aware that the Kurds are destined to gain their independence and is seeking an alliance with the Kurds against Turkey, Russia's longtime enemy.
In short, blinded by his would-be omniscience, Obama is driving his golf cart across the rough and into a sand trap. It remains to be seen who inherits this ugly wreck.