President Obama called for military action in Syria and then stood down when strongman Bashar al-Assad promised to give up his chemical weapons. He did not use cruise missiles when Assad crossed his "red line." But this was not a sign of toothlessness telegraphed to Syria's patron, Iran—another state developing weapons of mass destruction—as some Monday-morning quarterbacks insist. Quite the opposite. Obama's narrow goal had always been to remove chemical weapons from the equation. The real message sent by diplomacy with Syria is that Washington is not secretly aiming for regime change. The move says to Tehran: Forgo your nuclear-weapon dreams and, while other unsavory behavior will be condemned, you will be left alone.
…In 2003, the U.S. invaded Iraq over its purported possession of weapons of mass destruction. Suddenly, Libya's Muammar el-Qaddafi wanted to rejoin the international community, apparently realizing his own arsenal and clandestine nuclear program were not worth the potential costs. "The U.S. willingness to negotiate sent the same signal the Syria deal did: 'We will not try to overthrow your regime; we're narrowing our demands,' " says Daniel Drezner, a professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Qaddafi was implicitly allowed to continue his repressive dictatorship, and the model worked until he began slaughtering his own people during the Arab Spring.
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