Should the West attempt to make the Syrian civil war drag on for as long as possible? The question may sound morally offensive and politically wrong-headed. The U.S. and its allies have consistently called for a rapid cessation of hostilities and a negotiated settlement. Yet they are currently pursuing military, diplomatic and humanitarian strategies that could contribute to prolonging the conflict. This could result in either a stalemate inside Syria or even more violence in the country and across the Middle East.
As the Syrian war escalated from steady but limited violence to large-scale bloodletting in 2012, many Western observers believed that it would have to end quickly. President Bashar al-Assad appeared to be hemorrhaging support and losing territory. Yet in the past six months, Assad has regained military momentum. While he is still a long way from complete victory, his total defeat seems equally unlikely. There has also been increasingly vicious internecine fighting between secular and Islamist factions of the Syrian rebels.
Although there have been continuing calls for some sort of Western military intervention, the U.S. has opted for much more limited options. Its most notable decision, announced in June, has been to offer light arms to moderate rebels. This cautious proposal has run into trouble: While hawks and doves in the U.S. Congress debated the move last week, it was reported that the deliveries had not yet begun.