These days, President Obama must be feeling the full weight of the ironic saying that "no good deed goes unpunished."
In recent weeks, Obama has committed two very good deeds for which he is being severely chastised.
First, knowing full well that the American people were paying scant attention to the atrocities in Syria, he committed the United States to a military strike against war criminal Bashar al-Assad. Then he asked Congress to authorize that move.
He didn't have to do either. Americans weren’t clamoring for action against Assad after he gassed 1,400 innocent civilians, including over 400 children, which does not speak well for Americans. We should be outraged. Then, he could have (and, in my view, should have) gone ahead with air strikes on his own, but instead he chose the more difficult route of going to Congress, the most dysfunctional of institutions.
While that was a short-run strategic and political mistake, it could end up being a long-run success if it gets our country to confront its real responsibilities in the world. Are we really the "greatest nation on earth" or not?
When it became clear that Congress would not back him up, Obama was forced to accept the half measure proposed by Russia to remove chemical weapons from Syria. It's not certain when or how thoroughly that will actually happen, and even if it does happen, the civil war will rage on and Assad will remain in power for the foreseeable future. Assad should be removed from power and tried as a war criminal.
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has written a measured and brilliant to all the liberal objections to military action in Syria. Like Kristof, I'm a liberal in a very slim minority in my own camp.
But while Obama seems to be down now, I think history will be more kind to him. He is setting a precedent, or at least launching a needed discussion about the use of U.S. military force, not just to defend our own interests but to stop senseless human suffering. And he is doing that in the face of strong political opposition.
It's a profile in courage. Like most liberals, I sometimes wish Obama would be more forceful. But this is a moment when I'm truly proud of him.