Recent developments in Syria are evidence that the U.S. and the West allowed too much time to pass before using their influence to affect the outcome of the conflict. The choices were never easy, and the possibility that Western efforts could make the situation worse always existed. But the recent scramble to sort out the good from the bad among the rebels seeking to overthrow the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad shows just how dangerous the conflict has become from the point of view of Washington and Europe, to say nothing of Syrians who wish for a future free of dictatorship of any kind.
It is no surprise the U.S. has decided to recognize the Syrian National Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people: Conditions on the ground are such that the fall of Assad is now being spearheaded by al-Nusrah, a group of fighters loyal to al-Qaida, whose name we are likely to hear more often in the days ahead.
That troubling reality came into focus this week when the rebels announced a major victory against the regime, a development that should have been cause for celebration in Washington. Instead, the identity of the opposition elements that took over the Sheikh Suleiman base near Aleppo, also known as Base 111, was a source of great apprehension for U.S. officials.