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The U.S. military — with its cruise missiles hot and spinning — is now left in a holding pattern. The Syrian rebels currently have no confidence they can rely on the administration’s word. Mr. Assad has little to fear at present because Congress doesn’t even come back until Sept. 9, giving his forces and their Russian advisers time to move assets and adjust to protect the already identified targets.

And the entire world is left to wonder what might happen if Mr. Assad uses chemical weapons again during the interim congressional debate.

Mr. Obama’s zigzagging has turned the once great hope of the Arab Spring into the autumn of U.S. influence around the globe. A feeble United Nations — which pulled its inspectors out of Syria over the weekend for fear of a strike — can scoff at last week’s bluff. European allies who don’t want any more war anywhere right now feel like they have leverage against an indecisive U.S. And Russia and Iran see even greater opportunity to come to the rescue of Mr. Assad in an effort to extend the American embarrassment.

None of this is to say Mr. Obama’s values are wrong by American standards. Wanting to embrace democracy in emerging places around the world is as American as apple pie. Seeking to punish a violation of the chemical weapons treaty ratified by most of the world is essential. Coming to the aid of women and children slaughtered by poisonous gas is morally correct. And getting the consensus of Congress and U.S. allies is always preferred.

The problem for Mr. Obama is he has the sequence and execution wrong. He speaks first — often quite eloquently — before the planning and execution and will-building are complete. And the result is a series of hollow declarations that have eroded American supremacy, reputation and standing.

If the ghosts of presidents past could speak, they might tell the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.: “Mr. President, this is no way to conduct foreign policy.”

They’d have a little advice, too. Calvin Coolidge might tell Mr. Obama to speak a little less. Harry Truman might urge the 44th president to plan a little more. And Ronald Reagan might insist on waffling a little less.

The good news is there is still time to fix the damage.

John Solomon is editor of The Washington Times and has covered Washington for The Associated Press, The Washington Post, Newsweek and The Washington Times for a quarter-century.