Obama’s approach to this scenario reminds me of a minor scene in the 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia. In it, the commanding officer of all British war efforts in Arabia, Gen. Edmund Allenby, is challenged by a junior officer about his decision not to intervene more decisively on the side of the Arab Bedouin fighting the Turks in 1917.

The junior officer is Col. Harry Brighton, a fictionalized amalgam of British officers who backed T.E. Lawrence’s irregular war against the Turks. He wants Allenby to do more for Lawrence and the Bedouin as both teeter on collapse after many early successes.

“Look, sir,” Brighton implores Allenby. “We can’t just do nothing.”

“Why not?” Allenby replies with a sigh. “It’s usually best.”

In essence, the Allenby policy has been U.S. policy in Syria. Humanitarian assistance is not nothing. But if you talk to reporters like my CBS colleague Clarissa Ward, they will say it feels like nothing. For rebels and dissidents starving for weapons and civilians wailing and dying under the onslaught of unchecked Syrian air power, they see Obama’s policy as the equivalent of Allenby’s. And they live with it and die with it every day.