Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad must be pleased at how, within a week, the conversation has shifted from his regime's alleged use of chemical weapons to an international peace conference on Syria's civil war.
The idea of ending the bloodshed -- and presumably addressing Syria's chemical weapons as well -- through an accord similar to that of post-Arab Spring Yemen is certainly worth exploring. Let's hope Assad's foreign patron, Russia, has altered its stance enough to make some sort of deal feasible.
The conference, however, cannot become an excuse to sweep the chemical weapons issue under the rug, not to mention the deaths of more than 80,000 in the civil war. If negotiations don't bear fruit, and we get conclusive proof that the regime has used chemical arms, the U.S. will need to take stronger action.
Critics, naturally, will warn that increased U.S. pressure against Assad may have terrible repercussions. They will point to the Syrian reaction to recent Israeli air strikes near Damascus as "an act of war," and to Hezbollah's declaration that Syria will give it "game-changing weapons," and argue that more U.S. action will foment even greater instability across the Middle East.
So here's a suggestion that may sound counterintuitive: A more aggressive U.S. response to proof of Assad's chemical-weapons use may be more likely to defuse the prospects of a regional conflict, in part by swaying Iran to rethink its nuclear ambitions.