Let’s try to penetrate political fog, and judge President Obama’s Syria policy by its fruits, not by biased opinions. In simplest terms, these important things have happened, or have been deliberately avoided:

Avoiding action before the August 21 event in which about 1,400 civilians were killed, apparently by chemical weapons, the President avoided a precedent of intervening in a foreign civil war solely because of humanitarian concerns or political favoritism.

Action based on the August 21 incident carries a more selective justification: national and world security threatened by existence of a chemical weapon stockpile in the Middle East, where governments are unstable and vulnerable to terrorist activity.

Mr. Obama’s decision that this threat would justify military action gave Russia, Syria’s ally, high motivation to seek peaceful means of resolving the problem. Intensely collaborating with the U.S., Russia appears to be taking major responsibility, easing the burden on us. Before the President’s decision, Russia had been complacent as the Syrian war went on for years, with casualties mounting to an estimated 100,000. His decision served an important purpose regardless of whether he personally wished for military action.

The President’s decision to request Congressional approval gained time – for the United Nations to verify that chemical weapons were used, and for the Russian initiative to progress to where it could be adopted or rejected. Further out, his decision gave a precedent for returning to the Constitutional requirement that Congress authorize acts of war – a measure more likely to build national unity. He avoided using the controversial War Powers Act that enabled presidents to wage war without Congressional declaration.

Those who charge Mr. Obama with incompetence would have us believe that he did not anticipate the firestorm by both parties in Congress, when asked to actually vote on the subject. It is easier to believe that his purpose matched his achievement, gaining time and observing Constitutional principles.

At each step, Obama’s stance brought benefits.  It’s more believable that he masterminded this relatively benign sequence of events, than that he drifted as a floating cork from one goal to another and missed them all.

Published as a Letter to the Editor by the Waynesboro, VA News Virginian, 9/18/2013.