On Tuesday night, President Barack Obama made a more coherent case for a U.S. attack on Syria for its use of chemical weapons. The president explained what Syrian dictator Bashar Assad's military did to its own citizens, which included releasing deadly sarin gas. The president forcefully argued that the world cannot permit chemical warfare, adding that doing nothing would encourage further illegal warfare.
"If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons. The purpose of a strike would be to deter Assad from using chemical weapons and make clear to the world we will not tolerate their use," the president said.
We agree that chemical warfare must not be tolerated. However, the second half of the president's speech seemed to be a retreat from the first half. The U.S., President Obama said, will first -- as an alternative to military action -- seek United Nations' action to force Syria to hand over its chemical weapons. This strategy stems from a proposal offered by Russia's leader Vladimir Putin.
If the Obama administration can gather Syrian allies Russia and China into a UN deal that effectively neuters Assad, it will be a spectacular piece of diplomacy. However, there are already deal-breakers; the Russians insist the U.S. promise no military attack; the U.S. insists any UN deal reserves its right of a military strike.
It's easy to grasp why President Obama is willing to debate in the UN. He has virtually no support from Congress to engage Syria militarily. Despite the strong case offered by the president, we doubt few members of Congress were persuaded to change their votes.
That leaves a future dilemma for the president. If attacking Syria is as important as he says it is, he may have no alternative but to bypass Congress -- and the polls -- and attack Assad's regime if the UN solution fails.