In April 2011, Obama said dictator Bashir al-Assad "had to go." But he did little or nothing to speed him on his way.
At an Aug. 20, 2012, press conference, in campaign season, he was asked about Syria's chemical weapons and said "a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus."
On Aug. 21, 2013, a year and a day afterwards, chemical weapons were used in large quantities in the Damascus suburbs a 20-minute drive from United Nations inspectors.
Last week, all signs -- strong statements by Secretary of State John Kerry, leaks of detailed military plans -- indicated that Obama would soon order what he described as "a shot across the bow."
But on Saturday, Aug. 31, he announced that he would ask Congress to pass a resolution authorizing the use of military force -- even though he believed he had authority to do it unilaterally. That means delay until Congress assembles Sept. 9 -- time for Assad to put his military assets out of harm's way.
There are strong arguments for voting against a resolution, the exact wording of which is not established at this writing.
Obama's "limited, tailored" approach seems certain not to destroy Assad's chemical weapons and may well not deter him from using them. And we have the president's word that he is not seeking "regime change."
In the unlikely event that air strikes do undermine the Assad regime, we have no assurance that an alternative would be preferable. Al-Qaida sympathizers may gain the upper hand.
At the same time, there are strong arguments against a vote countering a resolution. Undermining the power of even a feckless American president risks undermining the power of the presidency -- and of America -- for years.
Crossing a president's "red line," however improvidently drawn, should carry consequences, however limited.
Many in Congress, and not just Republicans, surely resent being called upon to authorize an action that public opinion polls indicate is widely unpopular, particularly among the Independent voters who can determine election outcomes in many states and congressional districts.
If a vote were taken this week, the resolution would be rejected -- just as a similar resolution was, unexpectedly, rejected in the British House of Commons Aug. 29.
Some Democrats want the resolution to strictly limit the president, while Republicans like Sen. John McCain want a broader permit that would allow for regime change.