As one of those (few?) who doesn't know what the best thing to do about Syria is, I don't mind sharing with my readers the views of people who are more confident that they do know. Here's Marko Attila Hoare, for whom the West's failure to support the Syrian National Coalition with arms 'is strengthening the hand of al-Qaida' there. Marko writes:
If Iran, Russia and Hezbollah feel free to intervene with arms and troops on the side of Assad while the west continues to tie the hands of the democratic resistance, the pursuit of "negotiations" and "ceasefires" will be merely the fig leaf behind which Assad completes his victory.
The west's inaction in the face of the pending Ba'athist and Shia Islamist victory amounts to a colossal failure of leadership. It is all the more surprising, coming as it does after the successful 2011 intervention in Libya, in which western intervention saved the revolution against Gaddafi, without the loss of a single western soldier. In the subsequent free elections in Libya, the liberals defeated the Islamists, dramatically disproving the Cassandras' claims that intervention amounted to support for al-Qaida. Unlike the misguided 2003 adventure in Iraq, an intervention in Syria – in the form of arms supplies to the FSA and the imposition of a no-fly zone – would enjoy broad support both in Syria and the wider region, including from Turkey and the Arab League. In these circumstances, the ostrich-like stance of the anti-interventionists appears all the more bizarre.
A rather different perspective is offered by Dan Drezner, though it's one he characterizes as being 'morally questionable':
Naturally, this will feed the "return of the liberal hawks" meme that's spreading in some quarters. Other commentators will gnash their teeth or decry that this is the first ill-considered step towards dragging the United States into another Middle Eastern war.
To your humble blogger, this is simply the next iteration of the unspoken, brutally realpolitik policy towards Syria that's been going on for the past two years. To recap, the goal of that policy is to ensnare Iran and Hezbollah into a protracted, resource-draining civil war, with as minimal costs as possible. This is exactly what the last two years have accomplished... at an appalling toll in lives lost.
This policy doesn't require any course correction... so long as rebels are holding their own or winning. A faltering Assad simply forces Iran et al into doubling down and committing even more resources. A faltering rebel movement, on the other hand, does require some external support, lest the Iranians actually win the conflict. In a related matter, arming the rebels also prevents relations with U.S. allies in the region from fraying any further.
So is this the first step towards another U.S.-led war in the region? No. Everything... this administration has said and done for the past two years, screams deep reluctance over intervention. Arming the rebels is not the same thing as a no-fly zone or any kind of ground intervention. This is simply the United States engaging in its own form of asymmetric warfare. For the low, low price of aiding and arming the rebels, the U.S. preoccupies all of its adversaries in the Middle East.
The moment that U.S. armed forces would be required to sustain the balance, the costs of this policy go up dramatically, far outweighing the benefits. So I suspect the Obama administration will continue to pursue all measures short of committing U.S. forces in any way in order to sustain the rebels.
... It's a policy that makes me very uncomfortable... until one considers the alternatives. What it's not, however, is a return to liberal hawkery.
So, to conclude: the United States is using a liberal internationalist rubric to cloak a pretty realist policy towards Syria.
For Benedict Brogan, intervention by Britain is a terrible idea but perhaps a necessary one nonetheless:
The coalition against intervention in Syria appears to have all the arguments on its side. It is, by any measure, a terrible idea, and on current standings the Prime Minister would struggle to secure necessary support in the Commons. But Mr Cameron says he wants to save Britain from international relegation. In which case, membership of the league of front rank nations comes with a price that is sometimes quite awful. Going in could have consequences that, after Iraq and Afghanistan, we are all too familiar with. But we should acknowledge, as he evidently does, that sitting this one out carries a price as well. The global race is not just about economics. It is about the willingness of the few countries with the capacity to intervene to stand up and be counted when the need arises. Mr Cameron knows that the burden is always ours.
On which, see also Alex.