As world crises continue to erupt, how will Obama react?

President Obama answers questions after delivering a statement on the Malaysia Airlines crash over eastern Ukraine in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House July 18, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Win McNamee, Getty Images

Facing a seemingly never-ending series of foreign policy crises, President Obama has been accused by critics of being hampered by slow decision-making and an unwillingness to react aggressively.

But despite the harsh criticism, the president is unlikely to drastically change course.

On top of ongoing flash points in Iran, Iraq, Syria and along the U.S.-Mexico border, in just the past week, he's been confronted by Israel's ground invasion of Gaza and the shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines jet over war-torn eastern Ukraine. And as the events in Gaza and Ukraine heat up, the call for more action from the president is ramping up.

Secretary of State John Kerry said on CBS News "Face the Nation" Sunday that there is an "enormous amount of evidence" Russia was involved in the Malaysia Airlines shoot down alleging it was pro-Russian separatists operating Russian equipment.

Both Democrats and Republicans are saying the international community needs to push Russia harder to contain separatist elements that have been destabilizing eastern Ukraine for months. Mr. Obama had announced escalated sanctions on certain sectors of the Russian economy the day before the Malaysia Airlines jet went down in Ukraine, and now lawmakers on both sides say it's time for the U.S. and Europe to formulate a harsher response.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said that "the West, including the United States, has to have a far more significant response than we've seen to date."

"The United States needs to end its tepid response to this whole operation," Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said on ABC's "This Week," calling for the U.S. to provide more training, intelligence, logistics and food to the Ukrainian military. Plus, he said "it worries me that the president hasn't rallied the Europeans to his level of sanctions."

Experts express doubt, however, that the U.S. can change the situation more quickly with a more aggressive reaction.

"That isn't going to bring anybody back on the airliner. It is not going to necessarily force Russia to cave because Russia too may feel it could wait out a moment in political crisis," Anthony Cordesman, a security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told CBS News. "The real question is how much our allies are follow and go beyond what we have already done and there's also a question of exactly what will happen. Do we end up escalating the situation or do we end up containing it?"

Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, argued on "This Week" that Mr. Obama should actually be working quietly with Putin to end the conflict.

"There has got to be quietly put forward to Putin an off-ramp, basically, a way to de-escalate. And that should be right now the priority of the White House. It's not enough for our senior officials just to come out and excoriate Putin," he said.

Cordesman added that it's entirely likely the president is working behind the scenes to marshal the European response.

"Since a lot of things depend on creating a more solid front, the answer is we have to be a little careful about assuming that he isn't acting in ways that aren't public," he said.

The conflict in Gaza actually affords the president a rare moment of quiet from his foreign policy critics because nearly the entire political establishment and several members of the administration have backed Israel's response to the crisis. He would only create waves by changing course, Cordesman argued, even when it comes to speeding up a resolution to the conflict.

"The leverage that [Mr. Obama] potentially can always exercise is to make some kind of threat in terms of protections or suspension of U.S. aid [to Israel] but in terms of the domestic political pressures in the U.S. there obvious reasons why he has to be extremely reluctant to do that," he said. "He would certainly create a major partisan battle almost immediately as people try to capitalize on it."

The best thing the president can do, it seems, is to push for a quick end to the hostilities. He took a key step in that direction Sunday by announcing that Secretary of State John Kerry would travel to Cairo to help restore a 2012 cease fire agreement between Israel and Hamas.

"The president has been trying to walk a fine line between stating his support for Israel's need to defend itself with trying to figure out how to promote a cease fire because these pictures of...children being killed in Gaza are pretty horrific," James Goldgeier, the Dean of the School of International Service at American University, told CBS News. "I think from the U.S. standpoint the sooner an end to the violence the better."

But even with Israel as the lone exception, the continued arrival of fresh crises abroad leaves the president vulnerable to the criticism that he has been too slow to act on matters of foreign policy.

"Leading from behind is not working. The world is adrift," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on NBC's "Meet the Press." President Obama has become the king of indecision. His policies are failing across the globe and they will come here soon."

Kerry defended the president, conceding that these conflicts have been caused by "enormous numbers of forces...unleashed with globalization, with the Arab Spring, with the radical religious extremism, none of which are the fault of President Obama."

"There's a nice narrative politically if all you want to do is play politics," Kerry said on ABC's "This Week."

"But the fact is that the United States of more engaged in more places in the world, and, frankly, I think, to greater effect, than at any time in recent memory. I can't think of a time when the United States has been engaged in more places."

But that engagement hasn't necessarily meant success around the world. Experts like Cordesman still conclude that Mr. Obama is not always a victim when confronted with a limited range of actions in crumbling countries like Iraq and Syria.

"The problem is time and again he finds it either very difficult to choose the least bad option or he simply does not really implement his choices effectively and consistently to the point where having made them, they have the maximum chance of success," Cordesman said.

"A lot of the criticism you hear of Obama in Washington is not a partisan criticism, it's the criticism that on those two grounds this is a president who seems to wait almost endlessly and never fully implements a decision when he finally takes it."

But others say that there is only so much Mr. Obama can do when it comes to shifting world events.

"The ability of the United States to move some of these places in a direction that we want is a lot more limited than people recognize," Goldgeier said. "There are always things going on in the world that we're not happy about. I don't think we can take these particular events and say, 'oh, the whole world's falling apart.'"

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for