"Half-baked" and "mumbo jumbo" aren't your usual presidential words used to discuss foreign policy, but a clearly frustrated President Barack Obama lashed out Friday at critics who have sharply criticized his restrained approach to the war in Syria.
"When I hear people offering up half-baked ideas, as if they are solutions, or trying to downplay the challenges involved in the situation, what I'd like to see people ask is, specifically, precisely, what exactly would you do and how would you fund it and how would you sustain it? And typically, what you get is a bunch of mumbo jumbo." Asked if Hillary Rodham Clinton's endorsement of a no-fly zone in Syria suggested she also was endorsing a half-baked plan of mumbo-jumbo, Obama pivoted.
"Hillary Clinton is not half-baked in terms of her approach to these problems," the president said. "She was obviously my secretary of State. But I also think that there's a difference between running for president and being president. And the decisions that are being made and the discussions that I'm having with the joint chiefs become much more specific and require, I think, a different kind of judgment.
"And that's what I'll continue to apply as long as I'm here. And if and when she's president, then she'll make those judgments."
He pointed to Iraq and Afghanistan as cautionary examples for him before he decides whether to deploy military assets, and he said it wouldn't make sense for the United States to enter a "proxy war" with Russia.
Obama in particular slammed the notion that Vladimir Putin is a brilliant chess player who had outsmarted him on the public stage. Putin, he said, was sending in planes and troops into Syria out of weakness because his client, Bashar Assad, was crumbling. And Putin's broader policies in Ukraine and elsewhere had led to his country's economy and its contracting standing in the world. Obama said Muslims would now turn against him because they would see his support of Assad as backing barrel bombs dropped on children.
"This is not some, you know, superpower chess board contest," he said. "And anybody who frames it in that way isn't paying very close attention to what's been happening on the chess board."
But he holds out hope that Putin would eventually see a different path that would lead to a political settlement in Syria and Ukraine and Russia returning to growth.