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GOP shouldn't bail out Obama's floundering foreign policy

By Alex Castellanos, CNN Contributor
September 4, 2013 -- Updated 1836 GMT (0236 HKT)
In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war: In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war:
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Alex Castellanos: President Barack Obama's options are bad all around
  • He says a weak foreign policy has landed the U.S. in a tough situation on Syria
  • Castellanos: There's no need for a congressional vote on the attack on Syria
  • He says GOP doesn't need to share ownership of the policy with the president

Editor's note: Alex Castellanos, a Republican strategist, is the founder of NewRepublican.org. Follow him on Twitter: @alexcast.

(CNN) -- Our president is lost at sea again, in an ocean of equally bad options.

This president is an intellectual. He seems to believe war is the failure of lesser minds to find a reasonable alternative. Does President Barack Obama take America to war in Syria when, by disposition, such barbarism is not in him? Or does our president do nothing, permitting the continued slaughter of innocents while Bashar al-Assad dances across the bright "red line" painted by the leader of the free world?

Bad options all around. It was not out of character for this uncertain man to leave even his cherished golf game to reverse the course his secretary of state charted only 24 hours before.

Alex Castellanos
Alex Castellanos

Yet our president has found a solution. It won't save children from chemical gas or stunt the malignant expansion of Sunni terrorism in in the Middle East, but it does provide political refuge for Obama. The president who has drawn more bright red lines than Crayola, only to duck responsibility for enforcing them, has chosen not to choose.

Republicans in the House and Senate should not fall for it. This president has already claimed the authority to intervene in Syria. Republicans should agree with him that he has it, pack him a nice lunch and wave him off to do his job.

Opinion: Obama, ignore the polls on Syria

There is no need for a House vote to grant the president authority that already resides with him. Any such vote, however it turns out, would undermine the power of the presidency. Republicans who respect the Constitution should not participate in that. When this emperor is telling us he is well-dressed, why buy him new clothes?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I vaguely recall Obama being re-elected president of the United States. Unless I'm mistaken again, that would mean he is still president, now, at this moment.

Life on the ground in Syria
Zakaria analyzes situation in Syria

Apparently, Obama would not have us think so. Though he has told the country he has the power to intercede in Syria, he would like to make Congress "President for a Day" so members can share his responsibility.

It is doubtful he would do so because he expects American intervention to end quickly and succeed brilliantly and he is eager to share the credit with House Speaker John Boehner. Should Syria turn into a car wreck that lasts for years and further destabilizes what Obama's weakness has wrought in the Middle East, the president would prefer to be one of 536 decision-makers.

Some Republicans appear eager to step up, lick this cold, frozen metal bar and share responsibility for the administration failures that precipitated the crisis. Sen. John McCain told Jay Leno that "there are no good options" in this situation. Now McCain is asking Americans to pick one anyway and credential the president's decision to go to war.

But whose fault is it that we have "no good options"?

If Obama had demonstrated American strength against Iran's growing power and expanding alliances in the region, the world might today be different. Russia and Iran, along with the rest of the world, have noticed that this president's strong words against Iranian support of terrorism and development of fissile material have been matched by almost nothing beyond the mildest unilateral sanctions -- zero exercise of American power.

Opinion: Obama's irony, McCain's agony

We should not be surprised that when we allow madmen to pursue nuclear weapons with impunity, madness grows in attitudes toward all weapons of mass destruction.

For the past year, with Russian and Iranian support, madness has been growing in Syria and spreading to Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. While Obama has played golf, the Syrian crisis has spread regionally.

As Walter Russell Mead notes, "(T)the failure to intervene early in Syria (when 'leading from behind' might well have worked) has handed important victories to both the terrorists and the Russia-Iran axis, and has seriously eroded the Obama administration's standing with important allies."

Letting Syria spin further out of control, long after al-Assad has crossed "red lines" painted in his own people's blood, has also allowed terrorist groups to re-establish power they lost in Iraq and to rebuild their recruiting, morale and funding. "If American policy in Syria has been a boon to the Russians and Iranians, it has been a godsend to the terrorists," Mead writes.

Syria is the new Afghanistan, a hotbed of terrorist development, only more dangerous: The opposition to the Assad regime is in the geographic center of the boiling caldron spreading Sunni extremism to neighboring Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and threatening Israel.

What is to be done?

When you jump off a tall building, the problem isn't that Option A., flapping your arms like wings, doesn't work, or that Option B, running real fast in the air, like Wile E. Coyote, doesn't work. The real issue is the original and irreversible decision to jump off the building.

Today, Obama must side with either the Russian-Iranian axis bent on revitalizing Islamic terror groups or with a murdering thug who douses children with poison gas. McCain was right: There are no good options. It is sunset, not sunrise, now in Syria, and Obama's weakness against Iran and al-Assad is coming home to roost.

Obama knows, as we all do, that anything we do of consequence will require long, painful and debilitating American involvement -- and he cannot ask Congress for that. He is only asking Congress to help him pull one, teeny, tiny little thread out of the sweater, knowing exactly what will follow. His request for "limited" involvement is a ruse.

Opinion: Congress, support Obama on Syria

American strength, expressed at the right place and time, with steely-eyed certainty and confidence, is irreplaceable. For decades, it has been the glue that held the civilized world together. Weakness and inexperience at the highest reaches of American power have irreversible costs.

If only Obama were as ruthless at doing the job of president as he was at campaigning for it.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Alex Castellanos.

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