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A weakened president

Wednesday, September 04, 2013 - Updated: 10:16 AM

Appearing in the White House Rose Garden last Saturday, President Obama apparently experienced a revelation. He acknowledged there are constitutional limits on his power, something he has heretofore mostly ignored while issuing executive orders, bypassing Congress on appointments and deciding which parts of the Affordable Care Act to follow and which to delay or ignore.

The president will wait for Congress to reconvene on Sept. 9 and debate whether to grant him authority to attack Syria. It is uncertain whether he will get approval for what he says will be a limited -- and likely inconsequential -- strike.

His indecisiveness sends a clear message to the Middle East where dictators and mullahs respect power and consistency. They can be expected to have little fear of this president who thinks his order to Navy Seals to kill Osama bin Laden should be sufficient proof of his strength and resolve.

The trouble with an uncertain trumpet blown by a naive and weak leader is that it can get people killed. American people.

Why should any dictator or terrorist fear America? The president promised to bring to justice those who attacked the U.S. mission in Benghazi nearly a year ago, killing four Americans. He hasn't. With Syria, he has sent a message that will almost certainly invite more attacks on Americans.

You know things are bad when Russian President Vladimir Putin sounds more decisive and more credible than the American president. The day after Secretary of State John Kerry (who looked and sounded more presidential than the president) delivered a ringing justification for attacking Syria, the president undercut him by passing the buck to Congress.

Obama should have immediately recalled Congress, as British Prime Minister David Cameron reconvened Parliament. After a serious debate, a majority of MPs rejected any British military role in attacking Syria. Opposition came from all sides. Maybe that's what the president fears and why he wants time to lobby Members of Congress before a vote.

What will the president do if Congress refuses to go along, as it well may? If Congress won't authorize military force against Syria, the president will suffer a double blow from which he may not recover. Will he attack anyway and risk backlash from a public exhausted by war, or will he suspend attack plans and look emasculated as Damascus and others are already claiming he is? Either way, he and America lose.

In view of the president's disastrous foreign-policy performance, it is surreal to read the citation for his 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, which in a rare moment of humility he admitted was undeserved given his short time in office. The citation said in part: "Obama has as president created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts..."

The Nobel committee may want to consider asking the president to return the prize.

Hillary Clinton was right when she said during her run for president in 2008 that Barack Obama lacked foreign-policy experience. Her claim resulted in a campaign commercial about which of them could better be trusted to take a 3 a.m. call to the White House.

As Foreign Policy Magazine recalls, "(Bill) Clinton also attacked Obama's lack of experience in interviews with Al Hunt and Charlie Rose in the final months of 2007, arguing that Obama was ill-equipped to handle foreign-policy issues like terrorism and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."

The world is again witnessing the peril of on-the-job training. Apparently Jimmy Carter's ineptitude taught us nothing.

The late William James said, "There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision."

The same might be said for the United States and its president.

CAL THOMAS is a nationally syndicated columnist.

     

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