- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 2, 2014

From Russia to Syria to Iraq to al Qaeda, President Obama and his aides have underestimated the motives and capabilities of U.S. adversaries.

With regard to some, the Obama team initially characterized bad actors as U.S. partners, such as in the cases of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar Assad.

In other instances, Mr. Obama ridiculed as a “JV team” the rampaging Islamic State terrorist group, said al Qaeda was “on the run” and declared Iraq secure as he pulled out all troops against the military’s advice.

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“I think, unfortunately, that the Obama administration has put a higher priority on improving relations with U.S. adversaries — Russia, Iran and Syria before the Arab Spring protests broke out — than in advancing U.S. national interests and those of our allies,” said James Phillips, a foreign policy scholar at the Heritage Foundation. “As a result, many allies, such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan have lost confidence in the administration’s leadership. The president’s admission that he has ‘no strategy’ for countering [the Islamic State] is not likely to instill confidence in his leadership.”

Michael O'Hanlon, a defense expert at the Brookings Institution, said Mr. Obama is rightly reluctant to get into another war.

This image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, which is consistent with AP reporting, shows a convoy of vehicles and fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters in Iraq's Anbar Province. With al-Qaida linked fighters and allied tribal gunmen camped on the outskirts, a tentative calm took hold over Fallujah on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014 and residents started to return to the besieged city west of Baghdad. Government forces were stationed nearby as sporadic street fighting breaks out in other cities. The picture painted by residents, officials and international groups suggests that both the militants and government forces are preparing for a long standoff with civilians caught in the middle.(AP Photo via militant website)
This image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, ... more >

“Arguably, with Russia, China and Iran, he’s shown a healthy respect for their capabilities,” Mr. O'Hanlon said. “In fact, part of why he doesn’t get easily into new wars is his view that they tend to be harder than first advertised.

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“I’d say that even the intelligence community and other national security leaders probably underestimated [the Islamic State]. If they’d seen it coming, they might not have favored giving even limited support to the Syrian opposition, and might have preferred Assad as the lesser of two evils,” he said. “Alternatively, they might have fought harder against the removal of U.S. forces from Iraq.”

Of the Islamic State, Mr. O'Hanlon said “a lot of others got it wrong too. Few foresaw how rapidly [it] could metastasize, grow and expand militarily.”

Amid several crises, the president and his advisers have effected shortcomings in their analyses of overseas events and the world’s bad actors.

Russian President Vladimir Putin

In the 2012 presidential race, Republican Mitt Romney dubbed Moscow the No. 1 geopolitical foe of the U.S. because it protects despots such as Syria’s Mr. Assad and tries to disrupt American foreign policy.

At the October debate, Mr. Obama ridiculed the assessment: “Governor Romney, I’m glad that you recognize that al Qaeda is a threat, because a few months ago, when you were asked what’s the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia, not al Qaeda. You said Russia. The 1980s, they’re now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.”

In an earlier incident in which he was not aware a microphone was on, Mr. Obama was overheard in a cozy conversation with then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

“On all these issues, but particularly missile defense this can be solved, but it’s important for him to give me space,” he told Mr. Medvedev, referring to Mr. Putin, then Russia’s prime minister.

Mr. Obama also began his first term by embracing a “reset” of Washington’s relationship with Moscow.

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