With the help of adroit diplomacy by the United States and others, the problem of Syria has been moved to a much better state than it was in a week ago.
At the same time, the situation is precarious, with a lot of "ifs" and moving pieces, the equivalent of a close football game in which the home team is ahead by two points but the contest is only in the second quarter.
President Barack Obama is considerably better off. Instead of facing a vote in Congress on attacking Syria -- which he probably would have lost, with unknown but serious consequences -- the issue of what to do about Syrian President Bashar Assad and his regime's possession and possible use of chemical weapons has now been shifted to international diplomacy, first through an agreement reached Saturday between the United States and Russia and then to implementation by the United Nations. That is where it should be, especially according to the U.S. public, who have indicated that they have no taste for another Middle East war, on the heels of the long Iraq war and the longer Afghanistan war now winding down.
Americans' distaste was based on a perception that, in spite of Mr. Obama's claims, no vital U.S. interests were at stake in Syria. They also developed no enthusiasm for U.S. attacks, in spite of advocacy by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and some of the Syrian rebel groups.
The list of actions that must occur before anyone, including Mr. Obama, is out of the woods is nonetheless daunting. The Assad government must hand over a list of all its chemical weapons. U.N. inspectors have to see, secure and eventually destroy them, based on a Security Council resolution that has yet to be agreed upon and passed. To seek a transition from a chemical weapons agreement to a satisfactory end to the two-year-old civil war, the Syrian rebels, which include al-Qaida-affiliated groups, must be brought to a negotiating table through a combination of cajolery and military aid.
All this will not be easy, but it is preferable to the human, political and financial cost to the United States of another war. The performance of Secretary of State John F. Kerry so far encourages some optimism that he can, in the end, bring the matter to a successful conclusion for America.opinion_editorials