Barack Obama suffers from an inherent policy contradiction, especially in foreign affairs.
On the one hand, as a Leftist, he despises the United States and sees it as a force for ill in the world. On the other, as president, is judged by how well the country fares during his tenure.
Logically, he cannot reconcile the contradiction of these two imperatives: If he wants to be reelected and celebrated as a great leader, he has to forward American interests; but if he wants to implement his preferred policies, he subverts the country and fouls his nest.
Ideology vs. interests; this Leftist conundrum goes far to explain why Obama's Leftist comrades despise his time in office, for he has on occasion ditched his worldview to try to make things work (the base at Guantánamo) or he adopted a muddled middle ground that pleases neither side (the war in Iraq, Arab-Israeli diplomacy).
The same consideration applies to domestic policy as well (higher taxes or lower unemployment?) but not so starkly as in foreign policy. (November 27, 2011)
Nov. 28, 2011 update: This wisp of a blog has stirred some controversy, with numerous readers telling me how disappointed, or even appalled, they are with my casually stating that Obama "despises the United States and sees it as a force for ill in the world." On the other side, radio host Rush Limbaugh devoted several minutes to reading out this analysis and emphatically agreeing with it.
I take it for granted that Obama's far-Left background (most fully documented by Stanley Kurtz in Radical-in-Chief) signifies that he wants fundamentally to transform the United States. But, on reflection, this is not a outlook that liberals share.
Interestingly, while I caught a lot of guff for that description, no one argued with the idea that Obama faces a conundrum.
Sep. 9, 2013 update: Norman Podhoretz has adopted and run with this notion in an article today, "Obama's Successful Foreign Failure." He starts by noting the across-the-political-spectrum dismay with Obama's Syria policy and the subsequent erosion of U.S. influence in the world. But Podhoretz parts company with other critics in seeing this erosion as a result of Obama's intention.
His foreign policy, far from a dismal failure, is a brilliant success as measured by what he intended all along to accomplish. … As a left-wing radical, Mr. Obama believed that the United States had almost always been a retrograde and destructive force in world affairs. Accordingly, the fundamental transformation he wished to achieve here was to reduce the country's power and influence. …
This he did by camouflaging his retreats from the responsibilities bred by foreign entanglements as a new form of "engagement." At the same time, he relied on the war-weariness of the American people and the rise of isolationist sentiment (which, to be sure, dared not speak its name) on the left and right to get away with drastic cuts in the defense budget, with exiting entirely from Iraq and Afghanistan, and with "leading from behind" or using drones instead of troops whenever he was politically forced into military action.
The Arab upheavals then "presented the president with several juicy opportunities to speed up the process" in Egypt and then Syria. As a result, "he is bringing about a greater diminution of American power than he probably envisaged even in his wildest radical dreams."
As for the conundrum I noted in above, Podhoretz believes that Obama has settled in favor of policy over ego:
For this fulfillment of his dearest political wishes, Mr. Obama is evidently willing to pay the price of a sullied reputation. In that sense, he is by his own lights sacrificing himself for what he imagines is the good of the nation of which he is the president, and also to the benefit of the world, of which he loves proclaiming himself a citizen.
But can he sustain the attacks on his reputation until January 2016, still 3½ years away? Podhoretz thinks so, even if with difficulty: "No doubt he will either deny that anything has gone wrong, or failing that, he will resort to his favorite tactic of blaming others—Congress or the Republicans or Rush Limbaugh."
The article asserts that Obama will almost certainly "refuse to change course and do the things that will be necessary to restore U.S. power and influence."