The habit isn't hard to understand when you recall the question once posed by Madeleine Albright, who was Secretary of State under Clinton: "What's the point of having this superb military you're always talking about if we can't use it?"
It's not in the nature of American presidents to turn their backs on violent upheaval anywhere we can conjure up some pretext. Obama has already put his prestige on the line by letting his secretary of state announce that "Assad must go." He's ordered humanitarian supplies for the rebels -- as well as "non-lethal" items like night-vision goggles and communications gear that have military uses.
He's getting plenty of encouragement from the "how long do we have to wait for a new war?" caucus. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., have been talking up military force. The Washington Post has endorsed it.
They may be pushing an open door. Doyle McManus reports in the Los Angeles Times that the administration "is already committed to helping Assad fall. It's merely looking for the least violent, lowest cost way to get there." Having called for Assad's departure, Obama would look like a chump to let him stay in office, killing his people.
With the Iraq war still a painful memory and the Afghanistan war dragging on, the president will be careful to avoid sending large numbers of ground troops. The assumption is that air power will be enough for most of our goals.
But there are no guarantees. As Daalder has pointed out, Syria has better air defenses and a better military than Libya had. It can expect help from Iran. And if bombs and missiles are not enough, what then?
Aw, c'mon. You know the answer.