The New York Times recently published the results of a poll about Americans’ views on Syria. Not surprisingly, most Americans are against intervention. And not surprisingly, the Obama administration has just announced its intention to postpone military action in order to pursue another diplomatic solution, this time in cooperation with Russia. Of course, Russia and Syria have long had close ties, and Russian authorities have been protective and cautious about how they treat their Middle Eastern ally. So now the Obama administration faces a decision between two basic courses of action: 1) intervene militarily in Syria, probably unilaterally, or 2) continue relying on diplomacy. Ironically, the U.S. finds itself working toward a solution with Russia leading the way.
Bashar al-Assad has to be giddy about how all of this is playing out. The Russian-led solution to the conflict is that al-Assad give up his chemical weapons. This is a workable concession for Assad, considering that rebel forces seemed on track to win the war just a few months ago. But now those rebel forces are in serious disarray, and the international community (with the exception of the United States and possibly France) is unwilling to intervene. Assad must have sensed that the United States and its allies were tired and worn out by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He must have anticipated that Western leaders would be under significant pressure not to intervene. Still, there was risk that a country like the United States–especially the United States–would seriously consider military action, just as Obama did. But now Assad’s gamble is paying off, and his friends in Russia are in the driver’s seat of diplomacy while American lawmakers hesitate to intervene for fear of strong public disapproval.