09/06/2013 05:55 pm ET Updated Nov 06, 2013

A False Choice in Syria

Once again, mindless soundbites are leading the drumbeat for war in Syria.

The choice, we are told, is either bomb Syria to avenge its massive chemical weapons attack, or sit back and do nothing.

But there is another choice that not only makes more sense, but would more effectively and humanely accomplish the goal of stopping Syria from using chemical weapons.

First, Congress must vote to defeat the authorization for military strikes against Syria. And then, President Obama, as he hinted at today's news conference, should accept the opinion of the American people and their representatives, and not proceed unilaterally with military action. The president said today that the use of chemical weapons in Syria do not constitute an imminent threat to the U.S. or our allies, so I would consider military action without Congressional approval to be unlawful.

The president said he would listen to other ideas, and the best one would be to wait until the U.N. report on the chemical weapons attack is presented, and then form an international coalition, which could, depending on what the report says, conceivably include Russia, to demand that Syria immediately destroy its chemical weapons stockpile, and allow inspectors into the country to monitor this.

At the same time, the U.S., Russia and Iran, should immediately order a ceasefire, and convene peace talks with the Syrian government and the opposition. Iran has a new government that is actively seeking a better relationship with the West, and this would be an ideal opportunity for Iran to demonstrate that. Conversely, a military attack on Syria could embolden hardliners in Iran, and prevent a better relationship between the U.S. and Iran.

President Obama is right to say that the use of chemical weapons is a violation of international law, and must be dealt with seriously. But if the goal is to prevent innocent men, women and children from being killed in the Syrian civil war, regardless of what kind of weapons are used, the most effective and moral way to achieve that is through a diplomatic, not military solution.

Doing nothing about Syria is not a moral choice. But neither is a military strike that would do more harm than good. The world must put all of its energy behind the only viable choice, a robust diplomatic effort that brings together all of the key players in the conflict.