The insider-account of the damaging divisions between the White House and the State Department comes as diplomats around the world wait to see if John Kerry, the new US secretary of state, can persuade Mr Obama to greater engagement on Syria, Egypt and the wider Middle East.
Vali Nasr, a university professor who was seconded in 2009 to work with Richard Holbrooke, Mr Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, records his profound disillusion at how a "Berlin Wall" of domestic-focused advisers was erected to protect Mr Obama.
"The president had a truly disturbing habit of funnelling major foreign policy decisions through a small cabal of relatively inexperienced White House advisers whose turf was strictly politics," Mr Nasr writes in The Dispensable Nation: America Foreign policy in Retreat.
The book sets out in detail how Mr Holbrooke, appointed with great fanfare in 2009, was systematically cut out of decision making as both he and Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state, tried to argue the merits of engaging with the Taliban and the dangers caused by the overuse of drones.
"The White House seemed to see an actual benefit in not doing too much," Prof Nasr writes, "The goal was to spare the president the risks that necessarily come with playing the leadership role that America claims to play in this region."
Admiral Mike Mullen, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff until September 2011, is quoted lamenting how little support Mrs Clinton received from the White House, even though she remained on good personal terms with Mr Obama.
"They want to control everything," Admiral Mullen is quoted as saying of a White House that Prof Nasr says was "ravenous" in its desire to manage foreign policy, even by the to-be-expected standards of turf wars between diplomatic and national security teams.
As Mr Kerry prepares to return home from his first trip abroad in his new role, Western diplomats in Washington say they are watching carefully to see whether he will be able to put meat on the bones of his promise yesterday to "empower" Syrian rebels in their fight against the Assad regime.
Last week Mr Kerry pledged $60m in new support, including medical kits and food aid, which will go direct to rebel fighters for the first time, but still falls far short of British and French ambitions to provide more military materials such as flak jackets and night-vision goggles.
William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, is expected to announce a British aid package this week and has done little to hide his impatience on the issue.
Diplomatic sources in Washington say that Mr Kerry had been "left under no illusion" by his European allies of the desire for greater action, but that it was still very far from clear if the White House was serious about stepping up aid. Rebel groups remain openly sceptical.
Analysts looking for signs that Mr Obama might be prepared to be more engaged on foreign policy in his second term found little to suggest a change of heart in his Second Inaugural speech and last month's State of the Union address.
"American foreign policy has been on a four-year autopilot, which I argue has been excessively risk averse and domestically focused. I don't see any clear decision yet to change that," said Mr Nasr in an interview with The Daily Telegraph.
"I wrote this book to problematise the way Obama has approached this whole region, and that it is dangerous to disengage and confuse a low-level foreign policy with success in foreign policy," he concluded.
"My hope is that Kerry will be able to do more, but it is still early. He's definitely trying to create more US engagement, but there has to be a fundamental, strategic decision in the White House to reorientate our approach."