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Kissinger biographer: Putin exploits Obama blunder

Missteps and indecision concerning the Middle East on the part of President Barack Obama have thrown away more than four decades of U.S. foreign policy achievements in the region, said Niall Ferguson, the right-leaning Harvard historian and biographer of Henry Kissinger.

With his military moves in Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin is "making a shrewd chess move, with the intention of establishing Russia as the power broker in the Syrian civil war and the region generally," Ferguson told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Friday, a position the Soviet Union was forced to abdicate when kicked out of the Middle East in the early 1970s.

"I don't think this goes smoothly for Putin," he acknowledged. "[But] I think the U.S. had that position of leadership in the region right down until the Obama presidency."

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Moscow's stated purpose in its 2-week-old air campaign in Syria is to fight the Islamic State group, which has strengthened its ranks there. But along with strikes against Islamic State fighters, Russia also has reportedly targeted other resistance groups in Syria's multifaction civil war that began in 2011. The U.S. and its allies also have been waging a yearlong bombing effort against Islamic State militants, while trying to diplomatically edge President Bashar Assad from power.

Obama has "essentially left Putin to take the initiative ... while we try to figure out what to do next," Ferguson said. "The president dragged his feet since this civil war began."

"It's a pretty perfect illustration of the things that can wrong if you're indecisive," Ferguson argued. "It reminds me of one of Kissinger's most important points. 'If you do nothing in the face of a crisis and think that things will be OK, you can end up in a much bigger mess than if you act relatively early.'"

Ferguson's authorized biography "Kissinger: 1923-1968: The Idealist" was released at the end of last month. He had unprecedented access to the private papers of Kissinger, who simultaneously served as President Richard Nixon's secretary of state and national security advisor. After Nixon was forced from office, President Gerald Ford kept Kissinger on as just secretary of state.