Putin, Syria and the Middle East madness

It’s a crazy world when Vladimir Putin has a better plan for Syria than Barack Obama. But, as of this writing, the Russian president’s proposal to have Syrian leader Bashar Assad turn his stockpile of chemical weapons over to the United Nations is the best hope for avoiding the madness of American involvement in yet another Middle Eastern war.

President Obama unwisely backed himself into a diplomatic corner last year by stating the use of chemical weapons represented a “red line” that, once crossed, would bring American intervention in the Syrian civil war, a complicated and bloody fight between forces loyal to Assad and various rebel groups, some of them extremists. When evidence emerged that Assad used nerve gas last month, Obama was compelled to make the case for military action.

Not surprisingly, he found little support at home or abroad. It’s difficult to see what could be accomplished by the limited air strikes Obama wanted and too easy to imagine how the situation could escalate if the Assad regime remained defiant. Yet Obama pressed forward, seeking congressional support for an attack, until the Russian proposal brought a welcome alternative.

There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical about Putin, whose country has made money selling arms to Syria while blocking U.N. resolutions condemning Assad. But there are even better reasons to move forward with his plan. Obama should make every effort to negotiate removal of the weapons stockpile and avoid military involvement in Syria.