Some U.S. hawks called for immediate action. “I hope that the administration will consider what we have been recommending now for over two years of this bloodletting and massacre and that is to provide a safe area for the opposition to operate, to establish a no-fly zone and provide weapons to the people in the resistance who we trust,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. Even Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., an Obama ally, issued a statement saying the administration’s credibility would now be at stake if it didn’t act soon.

But others on Capitol Hill, including Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., were more cautious. “If it comes to the use of military force, before the president takes any action to commit U.S. forces to any effort in Syria or elsewhere, I expect him to fully consult with the Senate and seek an authorization for the use of military force,” he said.

Even as it gradually steps up aid to the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army, the administration remains very leery of getting directly involved in Syria despite the horrific tally—more than 70,000 dead in two years. The administration’s central fear is that it may end up aiding another takeover by the forces of political Islam. In Syria it appears to be the better-organized Islamist groups who are making the most rapid military advances, in particular Jabhat al-Nusra, a Syrian rebel force that may have ties to al-Qaida and opposes elections as “anti-Islamic.”