Paul Jacob

Syria, withdrawn from the front pages of our newspapers for the time being, is not quite the red-letter time-bomb crisis as first billed to us. So we should ask ourselves what we have learned while the war-torn nation dominated the headlines.

The trajectory of U.S. policy was dramatically altered when Russian President Vlad Putin stepped in to save the day . . . perhaps merely because a reporter had the temerity to ask Secretary of State John Kerry for a list of demands before the U.S. went firing missiles in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s direction. Shocked by such a sensationally sensible question, Kerry mumbled something about giving up all their chemical weapons.

So Mr. Putin rang up Mr. Assad — or had his assistant ring up Assad’s assistant — and the next thing you know, the word from Syria was, “Sure.”

Do you want fries with that?

And so it was that an oft un-shirted tyrant short-circuited President Obama’s Hamlet-like oscillation to a U.S. military action against Syria — a strike opposed by Congress, a huge majority of the people and even Mr. Obama himself before he would equivocate with the inevitable, “But . . .”

Yes, but . . . many a slip betwixt cup and lip.

This Friday, Syria did meet the first requirement in making an initial report to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. This doesn’t allay every fear, of course. Nor should it. The whole deal stinks of a ploy on the part of Putin and Assad. Besides, the proper response to the question — usually uttered with a rhetorical punch implying both the highest level of generality and a sort of weird, concentrated specificity — “can we trust Putin?” is, of course, “No.”

But the deal — the option for Syria to give up its chemical weapons — provides a breather.

Call it a timeout.

Yes, the deal gives us days, perhaps weeks, to catch our breath before Congress votes to give President Obama the approval he has asked for, but which he says he doesn’t need to strike Syria . . . and which he may choose to ignore if he feels like it, making the whole issue moot anyway.

But not moot — certainly not mute — have been the illustrious personages from American foreign policies past: Robert Gates and Leon Panetta. They both took time to try to make sense of the situation, and what they said was at least interesting.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.