Assad is now agreeing to preserve and strengthen that norm. He’s agreeing to sign the treaty banning chemical weapons — a treaty Syria has been one of the lone holdouts against. He’s creating a situation in which it would be almost impossible for him to use chemical weapons in the future, as doing so would break his promises to the global community, invite an immediate American response, and embarrass Russia.
This is, in many ways, a better outcome than the White House could have hoped for. Punishing Syria may or may not have actually reinforced the norm against chemical weapons — particularly if the strikes went bad and the American people punished members of Congress who voted for them. But Syria joining the treaty against chemical weapons definitely, almost definitionally, reinforces the ban.
Now, there are obstacles between here and there. The White House wants to see this ratified in the UN Security Council and subject to tough international monitoring, and Russia says that means forswearing force against Syria. And there’s always the chance that Assad’s spokesman pops up tomorrow with a press release that says, simply, “syke!”
But the White House shouldn’t work too hard to set the bar high here. If Assad is willing to sign the treaty and stop using chemical weapons, they should declare victory. It’s a better outcome than they could have hoped for. And they might get it without firing a single shot.
Almost like President Obama knows what he's doing. More on the President's speech tomorrow.
[UPDATE, Wed morning] The President's speech last night was the case we've heard before: somebody has to handle Syria, and that somebody has to be us. I remain unconvinced, as does pretty much the rest of the country, but the President is going to follow through on the Russian disposal angle for Asaad, and frankly the old Churchill adage remains apt: "'Jaw, jaw' is better than 'war, war.'" I trust the President to continue diplomacy and to find a way to make this work.
If it doesn't, well, that's another discussion for another day.