Meet the Paradox President

In Chuck Todd's inaugural interview, President Obama is deceptive, honest (sort of), and compelling.

Marking the inauguration of the Chuck Todd era on NBC's "Meet the Press," President Obama channeled many, often contradictory, adjectives.

Deceptive: Reminded that he recently dismissed the Islamic State as a "JV team," Obama denied it. "Keep in mind, I wasn't specifically referring to (ISIS)." Any fair-minded reading of the January interview in which Obama made the JV comparison, including Glenn Kessler's comprehensive review in The Washington Post, leaves no doubt. Obama was referring specifically to ISIS. He's not being honest about it.

Honest: Presidents rarely acknowledge the politics behind a decision. To his credit, Obama said he delayed unilateral immigration reform because he was concerned "about the politics of it." Immigration advocates are angry. As Todd pointedly told Obama, the promise of post-election action will be of no comfort to a person who's deported because Obama wanted to preserve the Democratic Senate. Obama said the delay is not about midterm politics; it's about the broader politics of taking time to explain the decision to Americans. That's where he's not being fully truthful. It's about all the politics of it, including protecting Democratic Senate candidates. So give Obama partial credit for honestly.

Persuasive: Until the "Meet the Press" interview, I did not understand why Obama had ruled out ground troops to fight ISIS. Not that I necessarily support deploying U.S. forces. It's just rare to hear a president take any military options off the table. Pressed by Todd, the president said there's just no getting around the fact that the U.S. doesn't have the resources to deploy ground troops in the Middle East "“ "it puts enormous strains on our military."  He added, "At some point, we leave, and then things blow up again." Obama also appears to be using the no-ground-troops pledge to leverage troops out of regional powers such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey. I'm not sure I agree with the thinking, but it's compelling.

Unconvincing: Todd suggested that it doesn't matter which party wins the Senate. Either way, America gets more gridlock. Obama struggled to provide a rationale, saying Democrats' retaining control of the Senate would "send a message to Republicans that people want to get stuff done." Sound familiar? That was his argument in 2012: Re-elect me and break the partisan fever in Washington. It didn't work. Republicans and Democrats are no less partisan. Obama is no more willing and/or able to change the calculation.

Contrite: Obama deserved criticism for allowing himself to be photographed laughing and playing golf immediately after his grim statement about the beheading of an American journalist. He deserves credit for acknowledging that mistake. "I should've anticipated the optics."

Clear: Finally, he's starting to describe his approach to the Islamic State with some clarity. "The next phase is now to start going on some offense," he said as he announced plans for a Wednesday address, part of efforts to build domestic support and an international coalition. "There's going to be a military element to it," Obama said. "And what I want people to understand, though, is that over the course of months, we are going to be able to not just blunt the momentum of ISIL.  We are going to systematically degrade their capabilities.  We're going to shrink the territory that they control.  And ultimately we're going to defeat them."