WASHINGTON - How Barack Obama deals with Russia's invasion of Ukraine will likely define his presidency in the history books. But after five years of coddling Moscow and its brutal, authoritarian regime, there's little confidence left in his leadership.
The immediate reaction among Washington's top political and media power centers to President Vladimir Putin's audacious military incursion in Crimea is that it's the result of Obama's foreign policy incompetence in an increasingly dangerous world. One in which we face a treacherous foe who thinks the Cold War never ended.
"Obama's critics assert that this is largely his doing -- that his willing acceptance of U.S. retrenchment abroad has opened strategic vacuums into which hostile powers rush and out of which friends tumble. There is some truth in that view," writes the Washington Post's veteran foreign policy analyst Jim Hoagland.
The Obama White House, Hoagland added, has failed to adapt to monumental foreign policy changes abroad -- "failing to think through the consequences of 'a world awash in change' and devise strategies to turn this change to U.S. advantage."
"It has allowed the United States to become a stumbling, status- quo power in a time of global upheaval," he said.
That's pretty strong stuff, but it is evident that Obama's foreign policy and national security team and its record is one of the weakest in recent decades.
Remember the whispered conversation Obama had in the midst of the 2012 election year with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, seemingly asking him to give Putin a message. "This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility," Obama said with a rhetorical wink and a nod.
Obama won a second term by saying that the terrorist threat from al Qaeda was no more, that their forces had been "decimated" and were "on the run." It turned out that al Qaeda and their allies were stronger than ever and had spread through the Middle East, into North Africa and far beyond.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been in charge of foreign policy in his first four years, but for all intents and purposes it was on automatic pilot. She seemed far more interested in achieving a travel record than in dealing with any of the stormy trouble spots that worsened during her term.