So this was always the plan, plotted three moves ahead by the clever American president, who was only pretending to be indecisive, quixotic and out of his depth. By sort-of threatening military intervention and then appearing to back down at the last minute, the US was not dithering or tripping over its own feet on the world stage. Oh no. It was creating the necessary conditions for Bashar al-Assad and his Russian mentors to come to the table and begin the process of submitting themselves to international standards on chemical weapons. Of course, if we pursue the chess analogy, then the first clever move was really Assad’s. By using chemical weapons, he created the necessary conditions by which the US would be forced to engage in these negotiations, which will almost certainly protect his regime from removal by the West, and will guarantee his Russian friends a place on the highest global platform.

Assad the war criminal, presiding over his little tinpot dictatorship, can now present his demands (for no more threats of military intervention, and no help to Syria’s rebels) to the world’s only remaining superpower in return for handing over weapons that are illegal anyway. The man who holds an illicit armoury can use that cache of arms as a bargaining chip to protect his own future. And Putin, the ex-KGB autocrat presiding over a country with a dying population, a failing economy and a defunct military – who was once cast by Obama as beyond the pale because of his unacceptable human-rights record – can bluster and preen as he delivers peace in our time. Yes indeed, it’s all going according to plan.

Everybody involved in this farrago of cowardice and dishonesty keeps reminding everybody else of the sanctity of “international law”. But Mr Obama has lost moral authority to Mr Putin, who clearly now regards himself as the custodian of the world’s principles.