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Bush chief of staff: US is a second-tier player in Syria

Wednesday, 11 Sep 2013 | 9:28 PM ET
The war against terror
Wednesday, 11 Sep 2013 | 7:33 PM ET
Twelve years after a tragic terrorist attack on our nation, the U.S. honors and will never forget the mere 3,000 victims of September 11th. Former FBI special agent Don Clark, and Former White House chief of staff Andrew Card, discuss the war against terror.

President Obama fell short of two objectives in his Tuesday address to the nation on Syria: reinforcing respect from the world and instilling fear from America's enemies.

That's according to Andrew Card, President George W. Bush's White House Chief of Staff.

"I don't think he came out of this speech with greater respect," Card said on CNBC's "The Kudlow Report." "I don't think he introduced fear to Bashar Assad. I think right now the situation in Syria is one where the United States is a second-tier player."

Card, who served as the head of President George W. Bush's White House Iraq Group, criticized Obama for lending too much power to Russian President Vladimir Putin in negotiations over Syria's chemical weapons.

"The Russians are the dominant player right now," Card said. "That's never good for the United States of America. In fact, it hasn't happened really since the early days of World War II. We are less significant in the diplomatic solution part of the equation over there, and that's not good."

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a televised address at the White House on Sept. 10, 2013
Evan Vucci | Bloomberg| Getty Images
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a televised address at the White House on Sept. 10, 2013

Obama made a strong argument for U.S. military intervention in Syria then backed away from it abruptly, Card said.

"I thought he made a very good case that Bashar Assad is a bad guy doing bad things and that the world should be outraged," he said. "But then he said I'm so outraged that I'm going to ask the world to step back for a little while and postpone the vote and we'll see if we can do something over the next period of time."

(Read more: Obama's Syria address attracts 32 million viewers)

Though Card said he did not see an imminent danger to the U.S. from Syria, he warned that this period of time for negotiations could be drawn out indefinitely.

"The truth is the timeline for negotiating, finding chemical weapons is going to be very long," he said. "I think he [Obama] gave Bashar Assad a pass."

As Bush chief of staff, Card broke the news of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack to the president from a second-grade classroom in Sarasota, Fla.

"I passed on two facts, one editorial comment, and I said a second plane hit the second tower, America is under attack," he recalled. "As soon as I heard about the second plane crashing into the World Trade Center, I knew that it wasn't a coincidence. I knew that it was a terrorist attack."

Though the moment remains clear in his recollection, Card said many have forgotten that the War on Terror continues.

(Read more: 12 years later, nation pauses to remember 9/11)

"The War on Terror was declared that day by the terrorists, and I think the War on Terror is still going on," he said. "Unfortunately I'm not sure that people in America are acknowledging that we are still in a war."

Card said the imminence of a threat from Syria is lower than the terrorist threats he faced from al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein in the Bush administration, but said the situation with Assad has been magnified by President Obama's lack of leadership.

"Quite frankly, I think President Obama has exacerbated that problem because he has allowed others to take leadership roles."

--By CNBC Associate Producer Elizabeth Schulze. Follow her on Twitter @ESchulze9

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  • Lawrence Kudlow is a CNBC senior contributor. Previously, Kudlow was anchor of CNBC's prime-time program "The Kudlow Report"