(Alexei Nikolsky/AFP/Getty Images) (Alexei Nikolsky/AFP/Getty Images)

Remember last month when President Obama got kudos for canceling his G-20 summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Edward Snowden aftermath?

It was greeted with applause as a principled move by some and with criticism as a hissy fit by others. Still, many agreed the Putin snub--right or wrong--showed the president taking a stand, forgoing his frequent half measures, and upholding one red line, if not others.

A month later, the decision to cancel that meeting is looking a little short-sighted. Just weeks after the attempt to make Putin look irrelevant, the Russian president is being cast as Obama's potential rescue line on the subject of Syria, possibly helping him get out of a congressional vote he likely wasn't going to win and a war he never really wanted to fight.

In what is being called the "Russian proposal" by many news outlets, Russia advocated for the international monitoring of Syria's chemical weapons as an alternative to a military strike (following a similar "rhetorical argument" by Secretary of State John Kerry that was initially seen as a gaffe). While Russia is now balking at France's proposed enforcement plan for such a weapons transfer, it did at least begin a broader conversation about global cooperation and alternatives.

It's unclear how long the proposal has been in the works, though some are pointing to reports from Sept. 1, and the president himself suggested he and Putin discussed the idea of transferring Syrian chemical weapons to international control at the G-20 event, as well as before.

Which makes me think, what if Obama and Putin had had that official sit-down in St. Petersburg after all, rather than just a brief "pull aside" chat? Would this still be referred to as Russia's plan?

A formal summit may have been nothing more than another photo opportunity. The two leaders, after all, reported that they didn't come away from their brief discussion with an agreement on how to handle Syria. But if the president and Putin had sat down for lengthier talks, perhaps we'd all be calling this the "G-20 plan" or the "St. Petersburg option" and Obama might own a little more of the solution.

Whatever beneficial message snubbing Putin may have had weeks ago, it also brought its disadvantages when he appeared to one-up Obama by seizing on a peaceful solution (albeit one proposed with some friction). In the long run, more engagement is usually better than less.

Jena McGregor is a columnist for On Leadership.

Read also:

Obama's Putin snub

Obama's Syria speech is now a dual challenge

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