David Ignatius has been reduced to tracking down Niccolò Machiavelli--it is "necessary to be a fox in order to recognize traps, and a lion in order to frighten wolves"--to act as urgent foreign policy counselor to President Obama.
Obama does the fox thing pretty well. He recognizes traps and generally avoids them. But he needs more lion.... To succeed in reframing U.S. power, Obama will need to frighten the wolves on Capitol Hill and in the Kremlin. Otherwise, they will devour what’s left of his presidency.
Yet how can one frighten the fearless? Quite aside from the Kremlin's unflappable Soviet-to-quasidemocratic tradition of patiently outwrangling the opposition, the GOP wolves on the Hill are actually emboldened by executive bravado. Their political future not only depends but is primordially brightened by complicating Obama's presidential tenure in every aggressively disagreeable way. Obama has no chips to play, no credible threats to make, no leverage to bear on these lupine lunatics, for back home, aggressive lunacy is an admirable thing.
What's more, even Ignatius acknowledges an even more fundamental sticking point when it comes to this president's unilateral maneuvering overseas:
Instead of converging in the center around U.S. leadership, the country seems to be converging at the wings, in a shared left-right rejection of the traditional interventionist role. The public overwhelmingly rejects more "wars of choice" in the Middle East to help nations and people who are seen as feckless and ungrateful.
Joe Klein, in a brutal assessment of Obama's Syria policy (unfairly brutal, in my opinion), presents the incontrovertible, from-afar flipside:
We have slashed our way into [the Middle East], under the neocolonial assumption that they are somehow in need of our wisdom and power, and left too much chaos and too many dead bodies in our wake to have any moral credibility left in the region.
This is the legacy of GWB's imperial map-remaking and recondite democracy-birthing and, in general, unfathomable neocon hubris. To much of it Obama could put a stop, but he can't shake an unshakable legacy.
Machiavelli? He probably would have advised our Great Skedaddle from that bottomless quagmire of the Middle East--which Obama was already executing, just as hastily as conditions would allow. His heart was never in a Syrian intervention, which was why he grabbed Russia's lifeline of amoral diplomacy; Assad, at least for now, has won, and now we can both look the other way.
Again, Machiavelli? He would have been pleased, I imagine. So David Ignatius need not fret.