An extraordinary amount of energy in Washington is expended these days looking for reasons to stay uninvolved in Syria. I understand every single impulse against deeper American involvement, but I also believe it is to America's discredit not to do something more than it is doing, for the obvious humanitarian reasons, and for some fairly obvious strategic reasons as well (the removal of Iran's only Arab ally from the scene obviously helps the American position in the nuclear debate, as would a perception in the Sunni Arab world that the U.S. will stand up to the slaughter of innocent people by the Assad-Khamenei-Nasrallah alliance.)
Given the reality -- that the Obama Administration isn't interested in getting involved (and is looking for ways, in fact, to get as uninvolved as possible in Afghanistan and elswhere), and that the "American people," from what I'm told by people who claim to know what the American people are thinking, aren't seeking much in the way of more Middle East engagement -- dramatic American intervention of some sort is not in the cards. But Hussein Ibish has outlined several steps the Obama Administration could take to aid the people of Syria:
First, it should stop talking about the "inevitable" fall of the Syrian regime and clearly announce that regime change in Damascus is a goal of US policy. Having determined and announced that, a great deal of clarity should follow.
Second, the United States should, like the European Union and others, formally recognize the Syrian National Council as "a legitimate representative of the Syrian people."
Third, the administration should publish a series of benchmarks that the Syrian National Council, or any other opposition group seeking this role, must accomplish in order to gain eventual recognition as, in effect, a government in exile. These should include, but not be limited to, developing well-structured relations with the Free Syrian Army and other armed rebel groups, and doing much more to reach out to Syrian confessional and ethnic minorities, as well as offering far-reaching, ironclad guarantees about their status in a post-Assad future.
Fourth, Washington should begin identifying those in the political opposition as well as armed groups on the ground that it believes can represent a better future for Syria. And then it must do everything possible, within the bounds of prudence, to strengthen their hands against both the regime and other opposition forces.
None of these are wild-eyed ideas or flights of fancy. Nor are they reckless or ill-advised. In fact, they are the minimum conceivable corrective to a policy of inaction that is both reckless and ill-advised.