Obama's wish list for 2016

Obama warns Putin against intervening in Syria
Obama warns Putin Syria civil war_00000000


    Obama warns Putin against intervening in Syria


Obama warns Putin against intervening in Syria 01:17

Story highlights

  • Aaron David Miller: President Obama unlikely to get wish on Russian intervention in Syria
  • Keeping U.S. safe from attack likely tops any wish list for final year in office, Miller says

Aaron David Miller, a Middle East negotiator in Democratic and Republican administrations, is a vice president and distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and author of "The End of Greatness: Why America Can't Have (and Doesn't Want) Another Great President." Follow him on Twitter @aarondmiller2. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)It's still more than three weeks until Christmas, but President Barack Obama is already making out his wish list. In fact, we got an indication of some of those holiday expectations from his press conference Tuesday in Paris -- and it's a pretty hopeful lineup.

Putin's going to change in Syria. Obama acknowledged it won't be easy but suggested that Vladimir Putin may come to realize he's got to alter Russia's policy and help find an end to the Syrian civil war. The President, channeling Afghanistan and perhaps his own fears of the United States getting bogged down in Syria, asserted that Putin understands the dangers of getting stuck there, and that this will gradually change the Russian leader's calculations.
Aaron David Miller
"I think it is possible over the next several months that we both see a shift in calculation in the Russians and a recognition that it's time to bring the civil war in Syria to a close," Obama said.
    Good luck checking that one off the list. The fact is Putin is in Syria for the long haul, has no intention of creating Afghanistan redux and will continue to support the Vienna peace talks while also continuing to back Bashar al-Assad and trying to avoid a Pax Americana in Syria. Putin is likely to keep going rogue in Syria, and there is little to indicate he will stay between the lines set by French President Francois Hollande or Obama.
    Degrade and ultimately destroy ISIS. In Paris, the President expressed confidence "that we can continue building momentum and adding resources to our effort to degrade and ultimately destroy" ISIS. This seems just as optimistic as expecting Putin to have a change of heart.
    Fourteen years after 9/11 and after billions of dollars have been expended in the war against terror, the jihadis seem to be winning. After all, in the past month we've seen three horrific attacks: first against a Russian commercial airliner (the worst terror attack against Russian commercial aviation), a coordinated terror attack in Paris (the worst act of terrorism in France since the end of World War II) and a jihadi rampage at a hotel in Mali.
    The truly scary part about these attacks is that they all were carried out by European, Egyptian or African agents or affiliates of ISIS. The terror group has jumped its borders and is now not just a corporeal presence in Iraq and Syria but an idea that inspires terror and violence. Defeating an idea with legs is a multiyear proposition, not one measured in neat four- or even eight-year presidencies. So expect this one to be on the next president's wish list for quite some time, too.
    And we have a coalition of 65 nations to do it. "The United States, France and our coalition of some 65 nations have been united in one mission -- to destroy these ISIL terrorists," the President said Tuesday, using another name for ISIS.
    But Obama is too smart to buy into his own talking points on this one. Of those 60-plus nations, the vast majority play supporting, symbolic roles. The United States has flown some 6,000-plus of the more than 8,000 airstrikes against ISIS. And Washington is the only one of those countries he is talking about to have boots on the ground. Well, except for the Iraqis -- and as we know, that has proven to be a mixed blessing.
    If Obama is looking for some seasonal cheer, it would likely have to come from getting the five key countries that could make a difference in Syria -- France, Britain, Russia, Turkey and Iran -- on the same page. But as demonstrated by the Turkish shootdown of a Russian fighter jet and Iran's determination to support Assad, that will be tough to do.
    The President will need a lot of help to make this wish come true.
    Keep America safe. This is surely the top of the Obama's list. Since Paris, administration officials have been downplaying the likelihood of a Paris-style attack in the United States in the near future. Partly that's driven by the absence of credible intelligence, but it's also about needing to reassure the American people. And, of course, for multiple reasons, pulling off such an attack here is more difficult than it is in Europe.
    Obama has been even more aggressive in confronting terrorism through drone strikes, for example, than his predecessor. But that won't mean much for the President's legacy if the first directed attack by a foreign terror organization since 9/11 occurs on his watch. The failure to enforce the red line on Syria's chemical weapons use, the failed rebel training program and his dismissal of ISIS as a JV team would no doubt come back to haunt him.
    Bring me a Democrat in 2017. Keeping the homeland safe from an attack tops the list, but this won't be far below. "I'm anticipating a Democrat succeeding me. I'm confident in the wisdom of the American people on that front," the President said.
    Not since Ronald Reagan was succeeded by George H.W. Bush -- more than a quarter of a century ago -- has a two-term president passed control to a member of his own party. It doesn't happen very often in U.S. politics, in large part because the public sees their presidents and parties like cars -- after eight years, it's time for a new one.
    Right now, it seems like this could actually be one of the wishes that Obama is most likely to get, although the support for Republican outsiders suggests parts of the country are fickle and angry. So he would be wrong to take seeing another Democrat getting ready to move into the White House a year from now for granted.
    Of course, there is plenty more Obama will be hoping for before he leaves office -- we haven't even mentioned other headaches such as a rising and aggrandizing Iran, Arab states that are melting down or the Israeli-Palestinian mess. But there is probably already too much here to be fulfilled in the next 12 months, or the 12 months after that. Indeed, whoever wins the White House in 2016 will likely be wishing for many of the same things in 2017.