One of the first rules of diplomacy is: Don’t speak in hypotheticals. So Secretary of State John Kerry made a major gaffe when he told reporters that if Syrian President Bashar Assad would “turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community” he could avoid a military strike. But Kerry’s off-the-cuff remark seems to have sparked the most promising diplomatic activity on Syria in months. Russia and France have gone into negotiations on a UN resolution to avoid a US strike. And Syria announced on Tuesday that it would sign an international treaty obligating it to destroy its chemical arsenal.
An outcome in which Assad hands over his chemical stockpile would be acceptable to President Obama, most of Congress, and the international community. Serious questions remain about whether Syria and Russia are acting in good faith. But if Russia’s offer to help secure Syria’s forbidden weapons is sincere, it would accomplish US goals far more effectively than a military strike. It would enforce the international prohibition on chemical weapons, deter the future use of those weapons, and degrade Assad’s military capabilities by relieving him of deadly poisons in his arsenal. It would also address the Obama administration’s greatest fear: that chemical weapons would be stolen by terrorists and used against Americans.