Until the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs, the administration was not primarily concerned with chemical weapons. It was concerned with doing whatever it could — short of intervening militarily — to see to it that Syrian President Bashar Assad either step down or be forced out. In 2011, Mr. Obama said: "For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside." And, a year later: "I have indicated repeatedly that President al-Assad has lost legitimacy, that he needs to step down." And in May at a news conference with the Turkish prime minister: "We both agree that Assad needs to go. ... That is the only way we're going to resolve this crisis. And we're going to keep working for a Syria that is free from Assad's tyranny."