Steve Chapman

When Obama finally agreed to send arms to the Syrian insurgents, some people hoped he was finally ready to make a difference. Alas, The New York Times reports, the help "could take months to have any impact on a chaotic battlefield" and is not likely to force Assad to the negotiating table.

That's not the worst outcome. By doing something, Obama proved his threat wasn't empty. But he avoided initiating a war that is far more dangerous for us to get into than to stay out of.

The President can't very well step way back from Egypt, our second largest aid recipient. So the State Department was obliged to make our desires known to the central players. Obama, however, is plainly averse to taking drastic action in a place outside our control -- and which has only minor implications for our security.

In Afghanistan, he acceded to the demands of his commander to expand the war. But in doing so, he insisted on an accelerated schedule for removing combat troops. The surge was a short-term concession for a long-term gain. Better than leaving early? No. But better than an open-ended project? For sure.

Obama proved in Libya that he is willing to deploy military force when the risk is low -- even if no tangible U.S. interest is at stake. But overall, he has weighted the scales against intervention and interference. Those who expected him to deploy air power in Syria, threaten an aid cutoff in Egypt and carry on an endless fight in Afghanistan seem to have misjudged him.

For now, at least, Obama is carrying out a foreign policy that errs on the side of caution, patience, restraint and economy. As for the critics, you know what? We tried their way.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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