Two reports on Syria, one on American efforts to bolster rebels and one on Russian efforts to protect Bashar al-Assad, combine to tell the whole story. It’s not a pretty picture.

Obama’s weak-tea plan is summarized in a Wall Street Journal article that says he authorized a covert CIA program in 2013. The aim, the Journal reports, was to “gradually build a moderate force strong enough to put military pressure on Mr. Assad.”

But instead of victory, Obama only wanted to “force the regime to accept a political solution.”

Contrast that limited objective with Vladimir Putin’s sweeping plan, as summarized by Frederick Kagan and Kimberly Kagan. Beyond protecting Assad, they say Putin “means to forge a counter-alliance consisting of Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanese Hezbollah and demonstrate that his coalition is more effective than the West’s.”

In their intelligence update, they say Putin also aims “to establish a permanent foothold in the Middle East from which he can threaten NATO’s southern flank directly, project power into the Mediterranean and the Arab World, and generally re-create Russia’s aura as a global power.”

The Kagans also mock Obama’s reaction to Putin’s buildup as “inexplicably bewildered.” They cite Secretary of State John Kerry’s assertion late last month that he lacked “clarity” on Putin’s intent.

Kerry lacks moral and intellectual clarity. Putin has been very demonstrative about his intent.