President Obama gives every indication of being confused. Explaining Putin's truculence a few months ago on the Tonight Show, Obama offered, "There have been times where they slip back into cold war thinking and a cold war mentality. And what I ... say to President Putin is that's the past and we've got to think about the future, and there's no reason why we shouldn't be able to cooperate more effectively than we do."
Putin does not want to "cooperate". He wants to aggrandize Russian power and marginalize the United States. Thanks to this president, he is succeeding beyond his wildest dreams.
Secretary Kerry now journeys to Geneva to negotiate with Lavrov about supposedly disarming the nation that Putin has been sedulously arming for years. Russia, the nation that has protected its war criminal client in Damascus, now gets to play impartial mediator. Obama grasped this nettle because his own incompetent and contradictory moves had left him facing a defeat in the House and possibly even in the Democratically controlled Senate on a vote to use a modicum of force that Obama keeps saying will not do any real damage.
These are not just matters of leaders' egos or appearances. This loss of standing by Obama can have bitterly dangerous consequences for the whole world. Putin isn't just preening with insulting New York Times op-eds. On the day his Times piece appeared, Putin announced that Russia will supply Iran with S-300 anti-aircraft missiles and a new nuclear reactor at the Bushehr plant.
The true stakes of this "great game" thus come into focus for those with eyes to see. Just as it protected Syria, Russia is signaling that Iran too will be defended. Iran, of course, isn't going for unstable and comparatively weak chemical weapons. It's going for nuclear weapons.
Obama's arrogance mixed with incompetence has brought this nightmare much closer. This is what "flexibility" looks like.