Commentary: With a Nod to Diplomacy, a Nation Can Breathe a Sigh of Relief

President Obama’s decision to delay a vote in Congress on Syria places the matter where it rightly belongs: in diplomacy.

Posted: 09/10/2013 09:57 PM EDT
Barack Obama, Syria

President Obama allowed a weary nation to breath a collective sigh of relief by announcing that he was postponing the vote in Congress on intervening militarily in Syria.

As international events have swirled with lightning speed in the last day or two, the president has increasingly looked to the possibility of a diplomatic solution to the vexing problem of the use of chemical weapons in Syria. With Russia playing a greater role in compelling Syria to admit for the first time that they hold chemical and biological weapons, the scenario has moved dramatically in a short time toward diplomatic action.

In an odd way, the current landscape is precisely where it should have been from the outset, with the United States pushing for diplomatic ways of dealing with this vexing problem. To most Americans, the notion of the limited target strike the president called for was a highly unpalatable prospect. No matter how targeted and limited, there was no way for the United States to bomb targets in Syria without huge casualties and, with them, the prospect of reprisals.

To many Americans, it is difficult to feel how it is somehow imperative to intervene militarily in Syria when the nation’s forces stayed out of the job rectifying the horrors in such places as a Liberia, Sudan and Tajikistan.

Obama took great pains to make the moral argument that, though the United States is not the world’s police force, it nonetheless has the obligation to intervene when horrific crimes take place, particularly in the form of chemical weapons. Innocent children were being killed by these horrific weapons, he said, and it was outrageous to stand by silently.

Still, to most Americans, the situation in Syria doesn’t rise to the level where they feel the nation’s security is in danger. Therefore, there has been little enthusiasm for military action.

For the president, this is a win-win situation. The decision to place the decision on intervention in the hands of Congress has proven to be a risky one for Obama, a move headed for embarrassing failure. Obtaining the support of the Senate was dicey at best with the backing of the House looking increasingly like a pipe dream.

Getting Russia to hold Syria accountable for their chemical weaponry and forging some sort of disarmament agreement is a highly difficult and, frankly, challenging possibility. But diplomacy, never an easy enterprise, is precisely what this situation requires. And pursuing this action is far more sensible than the unpopular option of sending American troops on a military strike whose outcome is far from certain.

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(Photo: AP Photo/Evan Vucci, Pool)

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