Fred Hiatt: While Obama talked, Assad killed
Aug. 4, 2011: President Obama issues a "presidential study directive" that says preventing mass atrocities is "a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility. ... Governmental engagement on atrocities and genocide too often arrives too late, when opportunities for prevention or low-cost, low-risk action have been missed. ... In the face of a potential mass atrocity, our options are never limited to either sending in the military or standing by and doing nothing."
A White House fact sheet explains: "Our goal is to put an immediate stop to the Syrian government's use of violence against civilians and its policies of mass arrests and torture."
April 23, 2012: Obama speaks at the Holocaust Museum. "(W)e have to remember that despite all the tanks and all the snipers, all the torture and brutality unleashed against them, the Syrian people still brave the streets. They still demand to be heard. They still seek their dignity. The Syrian people have not given up, which is why we cannot give up.
Aug. 20, 2012: President Obama holds a White House news conference. "On Syria, obviously this is a very tough issue," he says. "I have indicated repeatedly that President al-Assad has lost legitimacy, that he needs to step down. So far, he hasn't gotten the message."
Jan. 2, 2013: A report commissioned by the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) documents 59,648 Syrians killed.
Jan. 10: The number of refugees reaches 501,872.
April 30: Obama speaks about Syria again during a news conference. "I think it's important to understand that for several years now what we've been seeing is a slowly unfolding disaster for the Syrian people. And this is not a situation in which we've been simply bystanders to what's been happening. My policy from the beginning has been that ... the only way to bring stability and peace to Syria is going to be for Assad to step down. ... Obviously, there are options that are available to me that are on the shelf right now that we have not deployed. And that's a spectrum of options."
Aug. 16: The U.N. OHCHR issues a report. "The Syrian Arab Republic is a battlefield. Its cities and towns suffer relentless shelling and sieges. Massacres are perpetrated with impunity. An untold number of Syrians have disappeared. ... The perpetrators of these violations and crimes, on all sides, act in defiance of international law. They do not fear accountability."
Aug. 31: Obama announces, "Now, after careful deliberation, I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets."
About half of the refugees are children. Antonio Guterres, U.N. high commissioner for refugees, says, "If we do not act quickly, a generation of innocents will become lasting casualties of an appalling war."
Fred Hiatt is editorial page editor of the Washington Post.