President Barack Obama has had a narrow escape after his mistaken decision to seek the approval of Congress for military strikes on Syria. He could easily have hobbled himself from being able to make any serious response to the Syrian government’s evident use of chemical weapons on thousands of its own people.
The events of this week have confirmed the degree to which Syria is a client state of Russia. President Vladimir Putin, in proposing a regime that would control and eliminate Syria’s chemical-weapons stockpile, has demonstrated Russia’s ability to restrain – and to protect – the government of President Bashar al-Assad. He has evoked an echo of the Cold War, in which the United States and Russia were the two superpowers.
And the Syrian Foreign Minister, Walid al-Mouallem – like an official of a Soviet Bloc country in the past – fell promptly into line, agreeing to the proposal presented by Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, although Mr. al-Assad himself had just been avoiding answers to the question whether he had chemical weapons at all.
All this came about from some thinking aloud on Monday by John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State. He was sufficiently impressed by the detail in Mr. Lavrov’s proposal, which would include active Russian participation in the process, to think it entirely worth pursuing.
Meanwhile, it is fortunate that France, represented by its Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, is being militant in his advocacy of serious consequences, including air strikes, if the process bogs down, though Russia is stoutly resisting him.
At the very least, the Syrian government will hesitate before making use again of chemical weapons on a significant number of its own citizens; Mr. al-Assad and his colleagues now surely realize that such horrors cannot easily be concealed, or blamed on the rebels. And if Mr. Obama again sees fit to make air strikes against military installations in Syria, he will probably not make such future actions dependent on the two Houses of Congress.