It may yet fall through, but the Russian-brokered deal to collect Syria’s chemical weapons seems a genuine and life-saving diplomatic breakthrough. If successful, the Russians’ win-win-win solution to the problem of Syria’s chemical weapons spares Syria, the Mideast and the world another pointless war prosecuted by Americans on supposedly moral grounds. Syria is saved destructive military attack, Russia looks agile and constructive and can legitimately claim credit for being so, and President Barack Obama gets to assert, with even some justification, that none of this would have happened if it had not been for his threat to drag a reluctant country to war with Syria.
Kudos all around. The Obama administration should declare victory and withdraw the resolution before Congress authorizing military action against Syria, chastened, one hopes, by the unpopularity of its bungling and belligerent response to chemical attacks in Syria. Having made the initial mistake of drawing a red line that should never have been drawn, Obama then compounded it by seeking to enforce it with action that seemed all about saving face for the administration rather than improving conditions on the ground in Syria or even deterring future chemical attacks. He could not credibly explain what he hoped to achieve by launching military strikes against Syria, and even those who supported the venture fell back on lame justifications. Attacking Syria would be sending a message to Iran; Obama’s presidency would be imperiled if Congress did not support him. The argument seemed to be that the American people should follow Obama lemminglike over the cliff he created. The good news here is that if Obama has lost some credibility—our presidents are supposed to solve crises, not create them—the credibility of American democracy has been enhanced. In the wake of Edward Snowden’s ongoing revelations about how completely our country has turned into an intrusive national security state run by Big Brother, our democracy has never looked more feeble, but the pushback by the American public against war offers hope that our democracy still has some vigor.
Finally, the requirement that the Syrian government turn over its chemical weapons to the international community means that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad will preside over that effort. The Obama administration may be forced to dial back its demand that Assad give up office before negotiations between the Syrian government and rebels can go forward. That could be a positive step towards ending the civil war, as demanding that one side in a conflict change its leadership before negotiations can proceed is an effective no-starter to talks.