President Barack Obama’s options on Syria before this week ranged somewhere between bad and awful:
- Ignore American public opinion and congressional opposition and retaliate with missile strikes for a horrific nerve gas attack that killed more than 1,400 Syrian people last month.
- Or forget about delivering consequences, embrace a kind of pragmatic isolationism, and hope and pray that no further gas attacks occur.
The president looked as war-weary as the rest of us when he faced the nation Tuesday night to discuss a new, 11th-hour option, from an unlikely source: Abandon plans to retaliate in exchange for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons.
That proposal, from Russian President Vladimir Putin, comes with all kinds of red flags. Russia’s support of Syrian President Bashar Assad already has prompted more than one skeptic to wonder if the offer is simply a ploy to buy Assad more time to continue waging war on the rebels bent on overthrowing him.
But in the Middle East, where America has found time and time again that intervention rarely produces peace or even a rational outcome, Putin’s proposal offers a less complicated path to disarmament. As uneasy as we are about the motives of the messenger, Putin’s option is the best for President Obama and the United States to pursue.
The destruction of Syria’s stockpile of nerve gas will take years and must be tightly overseen by the United Nations. Promises of cooperation by Putin and Assad must be regarded as fragile at best.
But the potential for success outweighs the risks of another conflict in a region that has cost the lives of far too many Americans already.