It is useless now to point out how this could have been avoided or mitigated. It is far more useful to ask the administration just what its policy is. We know now that three former senior officials — CIA director David Petraeus, secretary of state Hillary Clinton and defense secretary Leon Panetta — supported arming the rebels. This, too, is the position of Britain and France, the former colonial powers in the region. The president’s thinking may be evolving, but for the moment, Washington is doing very little.

Recently, however, Secretary of State John Kerry suggested a reappraisal might be under way. In his first Middle East tour, he said in Saudi Arabia that the Syrian opposition had the “clear ability . . . to make certain” that the weapons going to the “moderate, legitimate opposition [are], in fact, getting to them.” These weapons, though, are not coming from the United States. They are from Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations. If the Saudis can supply weapons, why can’t the United States? A weapon is a weapon no matter who supplies it. …

Blowback is now a given. There is no sure way to avoid it, only to contain it. That can be done only by swiftly arming the moderates and pressing for as quick an end to the war as possible. Obama, as president of the United States, is in a position to save lives and avoid a regional calamity. His dithering has only made matters worse. Give the man an umbrella: He’s becoming a latter-day Neville Chamberlain.