Obama to Putin: The World Is on Our Side

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U.S. President Barack Obama addresses a news conference in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington. Obama had harsh words for his counterpart in Russia, Vladimir Putin. Joshua Roberts/REUTERS

It started out as a warm pro forma press conference honoring Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who will resign later this year. But after a few questions, President Obama almost lost his temper. Asked about his meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin and Putin's subsequent airstrike order against Syrian rebels, a fiery Obama took a shot at his frequent international sparring partner.

"Mr. Putin had to go into Syria out of weakness, not out of strength," Obama said.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter both said that Putin's actions would inflame the Syrian civil war and engulf the Russian military in a quagmire in press conferences earlier this week.

But the President's remarks got personal.

"Iran and Assad make up Mr. Putin's coalition at the moment. The rest of the world makes up ours," he said. Bashar al-Assad is a client ruler to Putin, who has backed his regime with military equipment and now air strikes against opposition forces supported by the U.S.

Obama also slammed Putin's performance by comparing the U.S. economy to Russia's. The administration has frequently taken the position that Russia is weaker for having been internationally isolated by sanctions, and Obama chided what he said was Putin's mishandling of an economy that is heavily dependent on oil and other resource exports.

"Russia's not stronger as a consequence of what they're doing."

He even suggested that Putin's actions were motivated by shoring up his support in Russian domestic polls, and took a shot at the U.S. press for advancing the narrative that the Russian's intervention made him stronger internationally.

The president was also visibly frustrated with his Republican detractors in the U.S. He criticized them for offering "half-baked ideas" about using force in Syria. Many GOP leaders, including John McCain, have said that Obama needs to take a stronger stance against Putin and Assad. But the President reiterated that he would not rush into a course of action, something he thinks Russia has done.

The President seemed frustrated by the perception of U.S. weakness, and seemed downright flabbergasted by criticisms posed by a national media that turned on George Bush over the messiness of Iraq. "When I came into office seven-and-a-half years ago," he told a reporter, the U.S.'s international reputation was "at a nadir."

His job, he said, is to protect security while avoiding "us getting into things we can't get out of."

"This isn't some kind of superpower chessboard contest. Anybody who frames it that way hasn't been paying very close attention to the chessboard."

The U.S. joined in a statement from several U.N. partners asking Russia to cease its airstrikes.

We call on #Russia to immediately cease attacks on Syrian oppo & civilians & to focus on ISIL pic.twitter.com/61zw3h9qd7

— Samantha Power (@AmbPower44) October 2, 2015