Is it too late to intervene in Syria?

The Assad regime looks stronger than ever

Al-Qaboun neighborhood, rural Damascus, Syria
(Image credit: AP Photo/Ugarit News via AP video)

Just last month, President Obama authorized the delivery of weapons to Syria's rebels, fueling hope that U.S. support could tip the country's civil war against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Since then, however, Assad has solidified his hold on Damascus and major cities in the north, capping a months-long comeback that appears to have given him the advantage.

"Although few expect that Mr. Assad can reassert his authority over the whole of Syria, even some of his staunchest enemies acknowledge that his position is stronger than it has been in months," says Ben Hubbard at The New York Times.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

As a result, many fear it is far too late for the international community to intervene.

Nearly 5,000 Syrians are dying every month, according to the U.N., with refugees fleeing at a rate comparable to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

Meanwhile, opposition groups are fighting among themselves. Last week, al Qaeda-associated gunmen killed a top leader in the Western-backed Syrian Free Army, exacerbating tensions between moderate and jihadist rebels.

And to the great frustration of the rebels, the U.S. has not come through on its promises of military aid. So far, it has provided only small arms to a limited number of rebels, and has promised to train rebels in Turkey and Jordan sometime in the future.

The British government has also been reluctant to get involved. While it has sent equipment to protect against chemical weapons, Foreign Secretary William Hague says that British officials "have no immediate plans to send arms to Syria."

Time is running out for Syria's rebels, says David Ignatius at The Washington Post:

The moderates are trying to hold on as the country crumbles. In the Bustan al-Qasr neighborhood of Aleppo, a Free Syrian Army commander named Abdel-Jabbar Akidi has tried to prevent extremists from blockading food supplies to civilians who have supported the regime. He's also trying to stop a war between rival sharia courts in the northern suburbs of Aleppo. This is a commander who has been pleading for almost two years for serious help from the West, apparently in vain. [The Washington Post]

In contrast, Assad's forces are backed by a unified group of several international powers.

"They have Russia and Iran and Hezbollah," Gen. Salim Idris, head of the Free Syrian Army, told the Times. "But these democratic countries that call for freedom, when you have people seeking freedom from dictatorial, oppressive regimes and need help, they do not give any aid."

Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute, warns about the consequences of not intervening:

Assad seems to have the momentum in the fighting, and if he and his allies prevail, it would be a tragedy first and foremost for Syria’s brutalized people. It would be a huge win for Iran, which would resume its quest for regional dominance with fresh confidence and be even less likely to heed international demands to dismantle its nuclear program. It would vindicate Hezbollah's controversial decision to send its best fighters to fight and die in Syria (instead of Israel) and likely bend Iraq's Shiite government further toward Tehran. [CNN]

However, others warn that it would be a mistake for the Obama administration to cave into such pressure at this point. Here's Daniel Larison at The American Conservative:

The question now is whether the administration feels pressured by these charges of "abandonment" to increase its support for the Syrian opposition, or if it sees this as an opportunity to correct the mistake it made last month. This is why last month's decision was so foolish: It was always bound to disappoint the Syrian opposition because it offered them so little, and it was certain to open the administration to the charge that it was "abandoning" the people that it had pledged to support unless it agreed to do more. Obama should reverse his decision, but he is facing so much criticism for fecklessness that he may feel compelled to continue the current policy that satisfies no one. [The American Conservative]

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.

Keith Wagstaff is a staff writer at covering politics and current events. He has previously written for such publications as TIME, Details, VICE, and the Village Voice.