Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Diplomacy Gets Syrias

One of the criticisms of President Obama's plan to strike Syria was that once a country unleashes weapons on another, the consequences are unpredictable and uncontrollable.

The same could be said for diplomacy.

Obama's speech last night was certainly different from the one he planned to give when he announced his intention to speak to the nation late last week. He now confronts an offer by the Russians to mediate a deal whereby Syria would put its chemical weapons program under international control in exchange for a promise not to employ military measures. The president is doing exactly what he should be doing in response to this offer. His plan faced almost certain defeat in Congress and now he's found a diplomatice way out.

Many news outlets are saying that the president and John Kerry have bungled this issue and seem to be lurching from one bad plan to another. I disagree. Obama has always said that his main issue is with Assad's chemical weapons program, whose existence, by the way, the Syrians didn't acknowledge until the past two days. That's enough to convince me that they actually launched the attack.

So without doing much but issuing a threat, the president has won an important victory. That the Russians leapt on Kerry's offer of international oversight is more evidence that they were concerned that American missile strikes would be devastating to their standing in the world and would unmask them as supporting Assad's August chemical attack. The Security Council, stuck between doing the wrong thing and doing nothing, has sprung to life. And all because the American president did what American presidents are supposed to do: lead.

It's clear to me that this diplomatic plan will bear fruit because the other option is unacceptable to most everyone else. The US, though, will not give up the right to use their military and honestly, I think the Russians know this. The best deal they can get is to forestall strikes while international monitors take control of Assad's previously phantom chemical stockpiles.

Done well, this will be another example of American-led diplomacy. And it should put to rest any talk about America's decline in the world. We still have the power to force other regimes to change their behavior.

For more, go to and on Twitter @rigrundfest

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