This week saw Vladimir Putin become a polished New York Timesop-ed writer and U.S. President Barack Obama lose what little credibility he had left as a leader on the Syria question. The outcome of all this is not bad in the short term: Those much hyped U.S. military strikes (which the President insisted were kinda crucial but kinda not) are now on the backburner as we wait to see what can be made of the framework reached Saturday by Russia and the U.S. for Syria to turn over its chemical weapons. And the U.S. maintains a degree of temporary plausibility as a united world power that it would have lost had Obama gone to Congress with his resolution to use military force and been roundly defeated, as seemed inevitable before Putin swooped in with his disarmament talk. (Michael Barone makes a similar point here.)
But this is not a workable long-term solution. Even if Syria signs on to the agreement (it's not yet clear whether it has), dismantling Assad's entire chemical weapons arsenal will be next to impossible, particularly during the bloody civil war taking place. And the increased power the whole deal could give both Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is disturbing. As columnist Charles Krauthammer puts it, describing what how a Syrian arms-control agreement would work in practice: "Negotiation, inspection, identification, accounting, transport and safety would require constant cooperation with the [Assad] regime, and thus acknowledgment of its sovereignty and legitimacy." As President Obama has reminded us over the past year, with varying degrees of vehemence, this is not a regime we want to empower.
It's of course a positive thing to have dodged ill-conceived and unpopular military strikes (at least for the moment). But let's not confuse that result with having happened upon a solid or constructive plan.