It's not easy being a former President of the United States. One moment you have all the leaders of the world on your speed-dial, the next minute you have to wrangle invitations to dinner. So it's understandable former President Jimmy Carter wants to keep his hand in the nation's international affairs. He was, after all, Mr. Peacemaker — the man who got Egypt and Israel to hammer out a peace agreement, a feat akin to getting lions and lambs to share a sprout sandwich.

But even the best intentions of "private citizen diplomacy" has its limits. And President Carter is quickly reaching his. It's one thing to engage in prickly ceremonies — such as laying a wreath at Yasser Arafat's grave — but quite another to have discussions with terrorists out of the earshot of elected officials. And Carter's plan to sit down with Khaled Mashaal, an exiled Hamas leader, is one bridge too far.

A host of wisecracks are available — Carter is tired of Bill Clinton getting the headlines, or, since being released as a Sunday School teacher he needs a hobby. But the situation is volatile enough to warrant true concern. Mashaal is a terrorist bent on seeing Israel blasted from the map. He has killed indiscriminately. No one should enhance his stature.

Writing for Scripps Howard, Cliff May opines: "Does Carter sincerely think he can convince Mashaal to reject such ideas and embrace the Carter Center's kumbaya mission of 'waging peace and building hope?' Does he really believe he can change Mashaal's mind, much less open his heart?"

The problem is, no one's quite sure which Jimmy Carter is at work here — the one who can find the human soul inside of people filled with hate, or the flummoxed Carter who dawdled while American hostages twisted in the wind.

From here, Carter looks naive if he thinks he can convert the leaders of Hamas. Like the gingerbread man riding on the snout of the fox, he is setting himself up as a tasty morsel for an aggressor. The problem is, if he comes off as clueless or — worse — duped, his hide is not the only one on the line. No matter how "unofficial" his visit, the world will see it as the United States in action. The nation's role in the world must not be left to amateurs.