The United States-Russia-brokered agreement on the securing of Syria's chemical weapons is unlikely to erase the memory of the president's blunders in dealing with this global "red line" of war.
Nonetheless, it achieves a number of favorable objectives that shouldn't be lost amid the criticism of those who claim this 11th-hour compromise is simply a delay tactic. These include:
; For the first time, both Damascus and Moscow have acknowledged the existence of chemical weapons in Syria and the use of them. The latter became undeniable Monday as U.N. chemical weapons inspectors reported they had found "clear and convincing evidence" of a rocket-launched sarin gas attack near Damascus on Aug. 21. Although the report didn't identify responsibility, the U.S., Britain and France all say that the findings point to the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad being the perpetrator.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who presented the long-awaited report to the U.N. Security Council, told reporters "The findings are beyond doubt and beyond the pale." he said. "This is a war crime."
; The U.S. has avoided a military action in favor of diplomacy in response to a Middle East crisis. Given the cost, both in terms of lives lost and dollars spent, from past commitments to military solutions in Iraq and Afghanistan, this is a welcome change.
; The U.S. also has avoided a showdown in Congress, where the president's bid for approval for a military strike was clearly headed for failure. Instead, the president on Friday was able to delay both a Syria strike and a bid for congressional approval in favor of a plan to have international monitors seize and destroy Syria's arsenal of chemical weapons.
; The accord calls for a multilateral response in place of what was building up to be a possible isolated U.S. strike. Many nations including Britain, France and Russia have tentatively agreed to this sweeping agreement, which calls for a full inventory of Syria's chemical weapons program to be disclosed within one week and with all of those weapons being handed over to U.N. inspectors with the goal of seeing them destroyed by mid-2014.
; The accord also calls for multinational consent, including from Russia, on the consequences of noncompliance — military action. This addressed the president's central concern that if the use of deadly chemical weapons by the Assad regime went unpunished, it would embolden other nations to resort to similar tactics.
To date, just seven countries around the world have formally admitted to stockpiling chemical weapons. All of these countries have destroyed or are in the process of destroying them. If Syria complies, it would become the eighth.
If not, a military response remains on the table. France and the U.S. are insisting that that be clearly spelled out in a detailed U.N. resolution to be discussed in the coming days. Russia and other nations can demonstrate their commitment to the accord it helped broker by agreeing to such a resolution setting precise deadlines and consequences for the dismantling of Assad's arsenal.
Without them, the deal is toothless — and meaningless.