The Russian authorities have made it clear there will be no deal. On the contrary, the Kremlin, like Washington, expresses its readiness to raise the stakes and, if necessary, increase the pressure on Syria.
But the problem is – as it has always been with Mr. al-Assad’s atrocities – that atrocities are not themselves justification for one state to use force against another. This is true whether atrocities are committed with small arms or banned weapons of mass destruction.
Putin will wait for Tillerson to assess whether it would be better for Russia to punish Assad in the name of the great game with Trump. Putin’s cards are better now than in 2013 when he was desperate to prevent U.S. airstrikes so as not to appear powerless to stop them.
Intervening in Syria would require not just major military muscle but years of nation building, a task dreaded by many Americans. And as Obama knew, war-weary Americans still suffering economically from the fallout of a financial crisis were in no mood for such a commitment.