Stephen Carter explains the role of strategic ambiguity:
To this day, we don’t know for sure whether Kennedy was really willing to push the button [during the Cuban Missile Crisis]. Despite the hours of tapes, the pages of transcripts, and the volumes of memoirs that the crisis has produced, the fact remains that we cannot get into Kennedy’s head. He successfully hid his hand.
Russian President Vladimir Putin understands this strategic tool. At the moment, for example, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and other Western observers are wondering whether the massing of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine signals imminent invasion. The West is exactly where Putin wants it: trying to guess his intentions.
The Obama administration, by contrast, has developed the maddening habit of publicly ruling out options in advance.
What Obama thinks he’s doing is publicly ruling out doing anything stupid. What he’s actually doing is signaling to our adversaries which approach to use to get exactly what they want, while denying Obama what he wants.
Obama’s approach doesn’t quite rise to the level of amateur.