President Barack Obama is taking a lot of heat over his handling of the Syria issue. Former defense secretaries Robert M. Gates and Leon E. Panetta in a joint appearance in Dallas voiced criticism of the president for asking Congress to authorize the use of force against Syria in retaliation over its use of chemical weapons. Both men served as defense secretaries under Obama.

They also voiced skepticism about whether Russia can produce a workable plan to get rid of Syria’s chemical weapons. Gates and Panetta disagreed over a military strike. Gates said Obama’s proposed strike was a mistake and Panetta said it was a mistake not to carry out a strike.

Their comments underscore the division there is in the thinking of what to do about Syria’s use of chemicals in the civil war.

Gates was in the Bush administration and Obama asked him to continue as defense secretary. Gates said to make military strikes would make us the villain instead of Assad in the thinking of many people. Assad is the president of Syria. Gates added that the strikes would be like “throwing gasoline on a very complex fire in the Middle East.”

Panetta said the president should have kept his word after he had pledged action if Syria used chemical weapons. He explained that when the president of the United States draws a red line, the credibility of his country is dependent on him backing up his word.

Obama’s lack of experience is evident in the Syria crisis. He has trouble making up his mind. He doesn’t seem to know what to do. When he ran for the presidency he made all kinds of promises. One was to keep us out of another war. He’s afraid to go against what he promised. He should know by now that Russia can’t be trusted and whatever final agreement there is for Syria to give up its chemical weapons will be an illusion. Syria will never do that. It will keep a stockpile of chemicals out of reach of inspectors.

This country’s loss of credibility to the world is the most damaging fallout from what has happened. Bill Clinton called Obama an amateur. In foreign affairs, our president is proving Clinton right.