Russian President Vladimir Putin has ramped up the propaganda war over Assad’s gas attack and the subsequent American missile attack on a Syrian airfield. Putin is comparing the current situation to the stories of Iraqi WMDs in 2003 in the run-up to the invasion of that country. The implication is that President trump is trying to justify a similar effort in Syria.

To be sure, that gambit might impress some of the “Bush lied, people died” crowd who think that the previous administration cooked up the story of Iraqi WMDs in order to provide an excuse to take over Iraq and its oil wealth to benefit Bush’s and Dick Cheney’s oil buddies.

Let’s leave aside that we could have bought oil from Saddam Hussein for far less money than it took to knock over his country.

The problem is that Syria doesn’t have any oil. All it has is bad tempered Muslims who have been killing each other since the Syrian Civil War broke out a few years ago. Not even the most deluded conspiracy theorist would imagine that Trump wants to march on Damascus for economic gain. Unless they think that war-torn Syria would make an excellent place to build a golfing resort.

As of this writing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is headed to Moscow to inform the Russian leaders the facts of life. Russia can have the friendship of the United States and the West, or it can continue to play imperialist games with genocidal despots like Assad.

No third choice exists. The choice is highlighted by the fact that the Russians are “furious” with their puppet for launching the Sarin gas attack, to begin with. The attack has reflected on Russia as Syria’s sponsor with suspicions being floated that Moscow knew it was going to happen in advance. The Russians are starting to reevaluate their Middle East strategy in light of Assad’s gassing of his own people and America’s unexpected aggressive response.

Putin finds himself, therefore, with a pretty weak hand in the complicated game being played in Syria with a number of factions vying for power. The bluster about the Americans plotting a wider war is just a way to cover up that fact.

The next step will be to try to provide the Russians a graceful exit strategy. If Moscow can be persuaded to drop Assad, Trump will have scored a major diplomatic victory. After years of ham-handed passivity under the Obama regime, Trump will have demonstrated a deftness that has been sorely lacking in American foreign policy for too long.