(Article changed on September 14, 2013 at 10:44)
President Obama did Americans a favor by bungling his recent attempt to please his powerful backers who want military action to overthrow the Assad dynasty in Syria.
Now that the United States and Russia have announced a plan to seize Syria's chemical arsenal, it's time to reflect more broadly on events that almost led to a bombing attack by the United States.
Others will celebrate the success of achieving some of his goals without bloodshed. That is surely a good thing. What follows is an effort to explain also what might have been.
The president undertook six network interviews on Sept. 9, typified by his interview portrayed above with CBS reporter Scott Pelley in a White House "Photo of the Day."
But the president was not able to turn around public opinion for a bombing attack in reprisal for the gassing deaths of civilians Aug. 21 in a rebel-held suburb of Damascus.
Obama claimed President Bashar al-Assad's government inflicted the attack. The U.S. president and his team cited largely secret evidence to counter Assad's denials.
Worse, Pierre Piccinin, a Belgian teacher released after five months of captivity by the Free Syrian Army, is saying he and a fellow hostage, an Italian journalist, overheard statements by rebels showing their responsibility for the attack.
The part-time journalist said in a TV interview that he sympathized at first with the rebel group touted by U.S. leaders -- but then saw the Free Syrian Army disintegrate into kidnapping, banditry and worse.
Whatever the real facts, Obama surely knows he faces a problem of conflicting evidence -- as well the hurdle of legal standards. After all, it takes guilt beyond reasonable doubt to convict someone just for throwing a punch.
Obama has been trying to claim a violation of world norms sufficient to launch military strikes when he cannot obtain support from the United Nations, NATO, the European Union, or even the United Kingdom.
But the president has faced overwhelming pressure to kow-tow to his most powerful backers. So, he persisted in his PR campaign early this week, and his aides suggested he might launch missiles even if he lost a congressional vote.
Such an attack would have provoked an impeachment campaign by back-bench GOP House members blighting the rest of his term. On the military front, U.S. bombing could easily lead to escalation, as the public well knows from the experience of previous recent wars and their dubious rationales at the start.
The high costs that the president seemed willing to pay indicate why we should ignore much of the rhetoric and focus on those who apply pressure so effectively on him: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Israel, plus their Western business allies in the United States, United Kingdom, and France.
Most of Syria's neighbors want to oust President Bashar al-Assad, shut down its military, and exploit Syria's national assets in cooperation with Western powers.