Decisions he took in 2011, perhaps with the 2012 election in mind, have come to seem gravely mistaken. The refusal to aid Syrian rebels, which Clinton opposed in internal administration councils, has left the field open to the Islamic State rebels who control much of Syria and Northern Iraq and threaten U.S.-friendly Iraqi Kurdistan.
The decision to leave Iraq without a residual U.S. troop presence, contrary to military leaders' recommendation to station 10,000 there, has left the U.S. with little political or military leverage.
Obama now cites Iraq's refusal to give parliamentary approval of a status of forces agreement as the reason for total withdrawal. But he did have administrative approval, which is the basis for American status-of-forces agreements elsewhere.
In the 2012 foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney, Obama sang a different tune. He didn't want a SOF agreement, Obama said: "What I would not have done is left 10,000 troops in Iraq that would tie us down."
That stand was within the narrow range of positions Obama found acceptable. Keeping troops in Iraq was not.
Now, it cannot be said for certain that different decisions would have produced optimal results. Aiding Syrian rebels was a dicey proposition at best, and there was no guarantee it would have produced an acceptable alternative to the Assad regime.
Keeping a troop presence in Iraq might not have prevented the dysfunctional course of the al-Maliki government, either. But it probably would have imposed some restraint. And it would give the United States a better logistical position to repel the Islamic State, protect the Yazidis and guard Kurdistan than we have now -- the goals Obama says he is now pursuing.
No president can anticipate all the twists and turns the world will take during his tenure in office. But this president has been proven dreadfully wrong. Between rounds of golf and political fundraisers -- first things first -- he has been forced to realize that America cannot withdraw from troublesome parts of the world without terrible consequences.