September 10, 2013
Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with President Obama during the G20 summit earlier this month. (Sergey Guneev/European Pressphoto Agency)
Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with President Obama during the G20 summit earlier this month. (Sergey Guneev/European Pressphoto Agency)

Just hours before the president’s speech to the nation urging force against Syria, the situation remains fluid, but might be breaking for the president, turning what was a certain political “disastrophe” into a simple calamity.

The president’s approach to Syria has been completely incompetent, from the false line in the sand to the snap decision to seek congressional authorization to the meandering and weak case for justifying it. Now, h/t to John Kerry or Vladimir Putin (it seems unclear whose idea it was), there is a possible last minute diplomatic breakthrough in which Syria will relinquish its stockpile of chemical weapons in return for a promise of no U.S. military intervention. It remains complicated, of course; who will enforce the terms of the surrender of the weapons: the United Nations or will we be asked to take Putin’s word for it? But either way, at least for this moment, President Obama now has a way forward.

The president tonight should ask Congress for a conditional authorization of force, if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad refuses a multi-national, U.N. inspection force overseeing and certifying the removal of chemical weapons by a date certain. Moreover, the resolution should also authorize force should Assad cheat and use these weapons again.

Not perfect, I know. It can take us back to endless discussions of whether the inspections were thorough and what kind of force the president intends if necessary. But Obama can make the very legitimate case tonight that the threat of military action is the only thing that will create a diplomatic solution. And that is the strongest ground he has had in quite some time.