Well, no, that's not the final indignity, is it? Because now the administration will have to spend the next year, probably more, explaining away Assad's refusal to live up to this weekend's agreement, and the refusal of his Russian patrons to hold him to it, while the slaughter in Syria continues unabated.
It's easy to glean why Obama has backed down - it's the same reason any government backs down on principles they held dear before coming to power.
They don't want to wear the consequences of their actions. They'd rather stay in power and delude themselves with the hope of leaving a positive legacy for the history books.
Or, you get the Putins, Assads and Kims of the world, equally enamoured with power but unwilling to entertain the notion of defeat of their principles. These folk quash opposition through force of arms and use propaganda to spread the wold of their own righteousness. These dictators delude themselves that, as empire builders, they get to write their own history - I'd like to know which examples they point to as justification of this, 'cause I can't think of one.
In both cases, the guiding principle seems to be this:
If you learn anything about the way governments operate, it's you never willingly give up power if you can prevent it. If you really believe in what you're doing, and that it's the best course for the people and for the country, you don't give it up.
Sorry, folks - that's not leadership - nor is it democratic.
Power is not an end, it's a means. The role of Government is to implement policy reflective of the needs and, where warranted, wants of society. That's not what we have - instead, we have Parties that seek out coalitions of support and develop wedge policies designed to keep them in power, even at the expense of the health of their constituencies.
A moderate form is what Quebec is doing, targeting minorities to curry favour with a coalition of voters they think will support them. More extreme is the blatantly racist policies of Hungary's Jobbik or the hate crimes being perpetuated by Greece's Golden Dawn. At the extreme ends of this spectrum you have North Korea and Syria, who turn the oppression and murder of their own people into a heroic nationalistic cause.
We in the West like to tell ourselves we are people of conscience; we don't engage in wars, we just play at them. Attack ads, robocalls, wedge policies and fiendishly clever Machiavellian tactics; our political War Rooms employ every political, tactical and communications weapon they can think of to destroy their opponents - but not really destroy them, we're too sophisticated for that. Bullying competitors and destroying reputations is okay, but hey, we've got principles. There are lines we simply don't cross, right?
As often as not, these political soldiers twirling their moustaches behind the curtains are hired guns who love the fight more than they believe in the cause. It why they can so easily flip a position and spin it an indication of resolve.
But how many of these operators would be willing to fall on their sword for what they believe in? Again, I can't think of one. Really, though - why should they? That's not the example being set from the top. When it's all about staying on top, leaders dedicate far too much of their time pushing others down. That's not sustainable.
Obsolescence should be the first imperative of all leaders; that doesn't mean clinging to power but as quickly as possible ensuring it is comfortably and confidently in the hands of your troops and ensuring the right infrastructure is in place so that any one person can be replaced.
Humility is essential for leadership; the fact is, if you really believe what you are doing is right, you should be able to communicate it to everyone, not tailor your message for a few. If you can't, there's a good chance that you're wrong. There's no shame in that - no one person is perfect. The solutions we are capable of when we willingly work and compromise together are always the best for society at present - hence democracy, which we can't honestly say we have now.
Sacrifice. Killing or demonizing others, throwing your own people under the bus and a reliance on scapegoats or straw men when the going gets tough isn't proof you believe in what you're doing - quite the reverse. As Andrew Coyne has elegantly stated elsewhere, leaders demonstrate conviction of action when they put themselves in the line of fire.
Conviction isn't determined by what people say about you down the road, nor who you step on to get your way. Conviction is demonstrated by what you do today and how much personal risk you are willing to take in furtherance of your beliefs.
For all our talk about human rights, freedoms and liberties, equality for all and the rest of it, we are rank hypocrites unless we are willing to put ourselves on the line to ensure everyone has the privileges we cherish. After all, you can't have rights without responsibilities.
There are all sorts of things we can do right now to stem the violence in Syria; each of them involves risk for the West. If we truly believe in all the things we say we do, that won't matter.
All it takes is conviction.