Opinion writer

President Obama talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a luncheon last month during the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York. (Justin Lane/European Pressphoto Agency)

Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, better known as “Baghdad Bob,” was the unintentionally hilarious Iraqi information minister who, no matter what evidence to the contrary, emphatically predicted evisceration of U.S. forces during the Iraq war and denied any news suggesting otherwise. As NBC News recalled, “His last public appearance as information minister was on April 8, 2003, the day before the fall of Baghdad, when he said that the Americans ‘are going to surrender or be burned in their tanks. They will surrender, it is they who will surrender.’ ”

Baghdad Bob now seems to be the model for the Obama White House. Ramadi falls to the Islamic State? No bother, we are winning! Russia invades Ukraine? Russian President Vladimir Putin — take this! — is on the “wrong side of history,” is only going to “wreck his country’s economy and continue Russia’s isolation,” was “desperate” to talk to Obama (and the next day commenced bombing U.S.-backed rebels in Syria) and is about to get “stuck in a quagmire” in Syria. Russia moves more forces into Syria, changing the dynamic in the Middle East? President Obama brushes it aside. Putin is acting out of “weakness,” you see. Next thing you know, the Russians will have to “surrender or be burned in their tanks.”

One is tempted to assume, is hopeful even, that the president and his spokesmen don’t believe what they are saying. It is less frightening to imagine this is ham-handed excuse-mongering for a failed foreign policy than to imagine Obama thinks things are going swimmingly. If Obama actually believes we have Putin just where we want him, why not concede all of Ukraine — or the rest of the former Soviet Union, even. If it’s to our advantage to have Russia prop up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and destroy the U.S.-backed rebels, then we should be thrilled Russia is now being invited into Iraq to bomb the Islamic State. For that matter, why not welcome Iranian domination of Iraq and a new Shiite-Russian-Iranian crescent?

This is the bizarre parallel universe in which U.S. marginalization is good, chaos is nothing to worry about, the worst human rights offenders are our partners and traditional U.S. allies (Israel, Sunni states, even Turkey) will just have to lump it. It’s a world in which the system of nation-state sovereignty is subsumed to zones of influence — without the United States getting a zone. About the only politician willing to buy into such insanity is Donald Trump, who thinks it is a swell idea to have Putin fighting the Islamic State (except he is not fighting the Islamic State).

You can see why conservatives consider Obama a sharp departure from decades of American foreign policy under Democratic and Republican presidents. Instead of acting as a guarantor of the West’s security, the friend of free peoples and a check against rogue states, we rationalize weakness and abandon innocents. We tend to describe the president’s foreign policy as “feckless,” but it is worse: It is monstrous.

Even Jimmy Carter woke up, it is said, when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. He did not think it was a good thing that the Soviets were invading an independent nation or that the West should huff and puff but take no action.

To the contrary, in what was surely the best speech of his presidency, Carter told the country: “This invasion is an extremely serious threat to peace because of the threat of further Soviet expansion into neighboring countries in Southwest Asia and also because such an aggressive military policy is unsettling to other peoples throughout the world. This is a callous violation of international law and the United Nations Charter. It is a deliberate effort of a powerful atheistic government to subjugate an independent Islamic people.” Unlike Obama, Carter grasped the danger in letting aggressors succeed: “The United States wants all nations in the region to be free and to be independent. If the Soviets are encouraged in this invasion by eventual success, and if they maintain their dominance over Afghanistan and then extend their control to adjacent countries, the stable, strategic, and peaceful balance of the entire world will be changed. This would threaten the security of all nations including, of course, the United States, our allies, and our friends.” He went on to announce a series of concrete steps — “defer further consideration of the SALT II treaty,” “delay opening of any new American or Soviet consular facilities, and most of the cultural and economic exchanges,” “halt or to reduce exports to the Soviet Union,” suspend licensing of “high technology or other strategic items,” end grain sales, pull out of the Olympics and “provide military equipment, food, and other assistance to help Pakistan defend its independence and its national security against the seriously increased threat it now faces from the north.”

More important, unlike Obama, who is emphatic that we stay on the path of slashing our military, Carter began repairing our military and extending covert efforts, as historian Arthur Herman recalls:

The first was pledging that US defense spending would rise by 4.6 percent per year, every year for five years, starting in 1980. This shocked and infuriated his fellow Democrats — and greased the wheels for President Ronald Reagan’s military buildup. (In the event, Reagan wound up increasing defense outlays less than Carter had planned.)

The second step came in the 1980 State of the Union Address, with announcement of the Carter Doctrine: The United States would use military force if necessary to defend our interests in the Persian Gulf.

To back this up, the president authorized the creation of the first Rapid Deployment Force — the ancestor of US Central Command or CENTCOM, the wheelhouse from which the United States would direct Desert Storm in 1991 and the fall of Saddam Hussein a decade later, and which keeps the Straits of Hormuz, vital to global energy markets, safe and open today.

The last step was authorizing the first covert military aid to Afghan guerrillas fighting their Soviet occupiers. That marked the start of the Soviet quagmire in Afghanistan — a major landmark in the ultimate undoing of the Soviet Union.

You see, a “quagmire” happens only when a power is confronted, stalls and undergoes unjustified losses. Otherwise, it is called a successful invasion.

So it has come to this: We now can recognize that Carter was not malicious or indifferent to American influence; he was simply slow to catch on. If Carter, widely regarded as the weakest foreign policy president of the second half of the 20th century, looks good in comparison, you can understand how daft is Obama’s worldview. Had he been in Carter’s shoes, I suppose he would have cheered rather than take steps to mitigate imperialistic aggression. Umm, thank goodness Carter was in the White House and not Obama? Yes, it has come to that.