Presidents are generally defined by their willingness to take big, bold actions. But activity is often misguided -- as George W. Bush proved in invading Iraq, as Jimmy Carter did in lavishing funds on synthetic fuel. When it comes to the Syrian government's alleged use of chemical weapons against its own people, Barack Obama has decided that inaction makes more sense. It's a refreshing change, and it's wise.
He made the mistake last year of threatening military action if Bashar Assad resorted to these weapons. But he's had the good sense not to compound that error with a bigger one -- following through on it.
It would be a good thing if more presidents took the view he outlined today in an interview: "Sometimes what we've seen is that folks will call for immediate action, jumping into stuff that does not turn out well, gets us mired in very difficult situations, can result in us being drawn into very expensive, difficult, costly interventions that actually breed more resentment in the region. . . . We have to think through strategically what's going to be in our long-term national interests."
It's not likely that the U.S. can do anything effective against Assad without taking significant risks and opening up the serious prospect of deeper involvement in yet another war. Obama deserves credit for recognizing that, and for refusing to let critics prod him into choices we will regret.