A recent article in the New York Times, encapsulated quite nicely, my personal concern and confusion over the actions of President Obama. In this article, the press noted the way in which the President's claims in the past had given way in the face of current events. A previous declaration of that simply 'moving' chemical weapons was grounds for intervention has given way to 'using' chemical weapons as a pretext for intervention.
While the NYT seems to see this changing stance as an isolated incident of changing priorities, I believe that this represents an increasingly apparent flaw in President Obama's foreign policy. Namely, his administration talks. A lot. About a lot of stuff that they have no control over.
His administration has issued a lot of opinions about a lot of things but acted only rarely. Or rather, they rarely act in a decisive manner that will actually settle a matter.
In some ways, it represents, to me, the opposite of "Speak softly and carry a big stick."
Obama's doctrine, especially in the Middle East, is heavy on lecture, heavy on speaking and light on stick. For me, this is a lot better than him committing troops to another war, but it worries me in two ways.
Firstly, I don't actually know what Obama is doing for/in the name of our country. Despite his rhetoric, I cannot seem to understand his moves/methods and he doesn't seem interested in explaining it to us. I've seen a lot of liberals explaining what he's doing and a lot of conservatives complain about it, but apart from "we're going to focus more on Asia soon" I really don't know what America is planning to do next. Intervene in Syria? Who the hell knows? There is a lot of tea leaf reading going on, but I fail to see how the ambiguity improves American interests or security. That's on Obama. If he feels he needs to take the country in certain direction foreign policywise, he should at least have the decency to explain what and why. There are too many people explaining it for him these days; I don't want an interpretation of an opinion, I'd like to hear from his what the plan is.
I think the closest we got was when he committed the 'surge' to Afghanistan, but that was very heavy on ideals and tactics, and very light on 'what the hell are we doing?' The President really needs to make it more clear.
Secondly, the more his red lines shift, the less anyone knows what to make of his pronouncements. Its why you don't talk shit in ambiguous circumstances. It amounts to a bluff. And the more you talk about "I don't bluff," the more it can prod people to see if that's the case. I'm worried that, like everyone else, President Obama does have red lines that will invite retaliation, but his tough talk makes it more and more ambiguous and increases the chance that those lines get crossed. There is way too much speculation that his tough foreign policy is merely a reflection of a domestic political agenda for him to make legitimate use of force threats. This is a problem that President Obama's administration has not addressed, and it is actually a very serious one.
So since everyone else seems interested in giving their two cents. I don't think the President is interested in intervening in the Middle East at all, barring a nuclear explosion. That's not likely to happen, so stay tuned for more of the same for the next couple of years. Hopefully, the Syria mess will peter out of its own accord and the damage caused by the revolution there will moderate some of the Arab street so that the revolutions become more reform than actual revolution.
Here's the thing, though. If things do not get better, but in fact become crazier or far worse, I have no idea what to expect from Obama. That's bad. And in my worst case forecasting, neither does he.