Tricky diplomacy

It makes sense for President Obama to order a delay of any military action against Syria and explore a diplomatic alternative. However, his request that Congress delay a vote on backing such military action appears more a product of political pragmatism than foreign policy acumen.

Three priorities are in play: Preventing Syrian President Bashar Assad from using chemical weapons against his people again; keeping those weapons out of the hands of jihadist terrorists; and weakening Mr. Assad, leading to his eventual ouster, ideally with moderate forces taking control.

Russia and the United States share at least one of those priorities: keeping terrorists from obtaining poison gas. That may account for the recent diplomatic opening. Russia is ostensibly working with its ally, Syria, on a plan under which the Assad regime would relinquish control of its chemical arsenal.

A Syrian commitment to do so, backed with a United Nations resolution, would be a significant development. Securing those chemicals scattered across a large country, in the midst of a civil war, would be problematic. Yet even short of that, Mr. Assad would still be boxed in. With a U.N. resolution in place, any use by his military of chemical weapons would be a blatant violation. Under that scenario, the United States should be able to generate broad international support for a response.

The question is how serious are Mr. Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin? Is this a stalling tactic to delay a U.S. military strike or a genuine diplomatic opening? If Russian/Syrian demands prove unreasonable, if a delay strategy becomes obvious, President Obama must be prepared to return to his original policy of a military response to degrade the Syrian military's ability to launch future chemical attacks.

Ideally, President Obama would have in his back pocket the backing of Congress for a military action if diplomacy fails. That unified threat of force could motivate a deal. That the president is instead delaying congressional action is recognition he likely would not win the vote.

But both Russia and the United States have plenty of incentive to reach a genuine agreement and secure the chemical arsenal. A worst-case scenario is that Mr. Assad is toppled and radical Islamic enemies of Russia and the United States take control of the chemical weapons.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.


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