The possibility that Syria may voluntarily give up its chemical weapons should be fully explored and given reasonable time to play out. That does not mean a military strike by the United States should be taken off the table. It was President Barack Obama's pursuit of a limited military response to Syria's use of chemical weapons that created the potential for a diplomatic solution, and only keeping that threat credible will motivate Syria and its allies to act responsibly.
There already were signs Wednesday that it will be difficult to execute and enforce the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons, an idea briefly mentioned by Secretary of State John Kerry, proposed by Russia and embraced by Syria. Russia and China opposed a U.N. Security Council resolution proposed by France to require inspections and respond with force if Syria refused. Russian President Vladimir Putin contended the plan to destroy the chemical weapons would work only if the United States abandons all talk of a military strike.
The reality is the United States needs to keep the threat in the discussions. Obama's call for a military response to Syria's use of chemical weapons has forced Russia and others to seek a peaceful solution. The president prudently asked Congress to delay voting on his request for authority to launch a strike to allow the negotiations to proceed, but the talks will go nowhere if the United States does not keep up the pressure.
Obama provided a clear argument for limited military action in his televised address Tuesday night. He explained why the use of chemical weapons is against international law. He described how the failure to respond to Syria's use of chemical weapons to kill more than 1,400 of its own residents could encourage others to use chemical weapons without fear of reprisal. This is not a president prone to overheated rhetoric or reckless use of military force.
The sudden emergence of a potential diplomatic solution at least buys time for Americans to more carefully weigh a military strike and for Obama to convince a reluctant Congress to endorse one if all else fails. A congressional vote rejecting the president's request would have undercut the nation's international standing, eroded Obama's effectiveness and emboldened nations such as Iran, North Korea and Russia to act recklessly without fear of the consequences.
Now diplomacy should be given an opportunity to succeed. But Russia will see to it that Syria gives up its chemical weapons only if the United States keeps the possibility of a military response in play.