I think the President is demonstrating his smarts by being patient before taking military action against Syria.
First, it really is a fractious debate, and consensus does not yet exist–for good reason. It is entirely unclear whether military actions can succeed, whether the country is truly willing to accept a limited objective, whether the international community believes the action will in fact deter future chemical and nuclear red lines from being crossed. Under these circumstances, it is advantageous to let more events play out.
By referring the debate to Congress, the President can stake his position but not have to act yet. We know where he stands. Should Congress pass supporting legislation, the actions taken will have a much greater chance of success in the only arena that matters–political perception. Should Congress deny the President this support, it absolves the United States from acting on the basis of credibility absent good prospects for success.
Events can only turn in the President’s favor for action: Assad may choose to launch more chemical attacks, and the international community will be forced to reckon with its inaction. The more cynical and indefensible statements from Russia, the more preferable and legitimate United States leadership appears to its partners. The more pictures and evidence are shown, the longer the international community has to absorb that information and diminish support for Assad.
The more time the Pentagon has plan and prepare, the more creative and innovative options can be devised and executed. Who knows? The surprise and effectiveness of a truly novel and unconventional approach, perhaps one that avoids innocent casualties, can generate admiration of American ingenuity and support for the policy.
Some say the President is showing weakness by waiting. I believe he is showing strength–and smarts. Even if he is personally perceived to be indecisive, this is far preferable to taking rash actions that neither succeed to achieve the objective, or avoid making the situation worse. By seeking partnership and sharing authority with the Congress, the President is substantially increasing the odds for ultimate policy success.
[Postscript: on 9 September, Secretary Kerry speculated on, and the Russian Federation quickly supported, a proposal for Syria to turn over all chemical weapons to United Nations’ control.]