There is no appetite among the American people — or on the part of the two men competing for the U.S. presidency in Tuesday's election — for U.S. military intervention in Syria. That reluctance is sensible. Painful as it is to observe the deaths of tens of thousands of Syrians in the war between President Bashar Assad and insurgents inspired by the Arab Spring, the deployment of U.S. troops or a campaign of airstrikes under the rubric of a no-fly zone would enmesh the United States in an unpredictable conflict with a heavily armed ally of Iran on behalf of a fractious and fragmented rebel army. Even providing weapons to the rebels at this point would entail unacceptable risks that they would flow to Islamic extremists.
Given the unwillingness of the United States to use force to help dislodge Assad, some have suggested that it is therefore pointless for the U.S. to concern itself with shaping a post-Assad Syria. On the contrary, this country and other "friends of Syria" are behaving prudently in trying to identify and nurture an alternative political structure in the event that Assad falls.
Looking forward to this week's meeting of Syrian opposition figures in Qatar, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said last week that the Syrian National Council, a group dominated by longtime exiles, "can no longer be viewed as the visible leader of the opposition," though it could be "part of a larger opposition."