As the United Nations prepares to release a report on the use of chemical weapons in Syria last month, one that's expected to blame Assad but perhaps mostly based on circumstantial evidence, the United States is signaling its willingness to support a UN Security Council resolution on the issue that doesn't include the threat of force. The threat of force was never something the Security Council, where Russia and four other countries have veto power, was going to pass. Nevertheless, the LA Times describes the development as "indication of the White House's weak hand in the unfolding negotiations between world powers." John Kerry and his Russian counterpart have been negotiating a deal for Bashar Assad to surrender his chemical weapons to international control ever since the secretary of state off-handedly identified that as an unlikely diplomatic solution to the situation. The Russians seized on the perceived misstep and the UN resolution will include whatever arrangement Russia and the US manage to strike.
Why is the United States in the role of chemical weapons monitor of the world? Barack Obama insists it wasn't him that drew the red line for war (a kind of "Who Killed Davey Moore?" moment), it was the world. The president claims international law demands he (on behalf of the world?) act. Yet, in fact, none of the existing international law on chemical weapons applies in this case. The president's red line is his alone, his arguments to a non-applicable (or even non-existent) international legal regime notwithstanding. The UN does, under its charter, have the authority to act in some way on the human rights violations in Syria, but the Security Council has to act with at least the apathy of its five veto-wielding members, the US, Russia, China, the UK, and France. The Obama Administration's newfound willingness to drop the non-starter that the threat of force is at the UN should mean it's ready to meander away from a very much self-made crisis. John Kerry, it seems, has already turned his attention to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, his other pet project.