Dennis Ross rehashes the unpersuasive case for intervention in Syria:

It is rare that idealists and realists find common ground. But ironically, the unfolding conflict in Syria is one where idealists and realists should come together. There is a moral imperative to try to stop the onslaught against the Syrian population. But there is also a strong U.S. national security imperative to at least contain the conflict in Syria, ensure that the regime’s chemical weapons do not fall into al Qaeda’s hands, and prevent the neighborhood from being destabilized.

It is not true that the U.S. has a “great stake” in the conflict. Once we dispense with this illusion, we can stop fixating on trying to influence the outcome of a conflict in which the U.S. has nothing at stake. Insofar as the U.S. has something at stake in the surrounding region, it is in limiting the damage from the conflict to Syria’s neighbors. That won’t be achieved by sending more weapons into Syria, and sending more weapons will intensify the conflict and displace even more people into neighboring countries. In practical terms, the chances of chemical weapons falling into the hands of Jabhat al-Nusra or similar groups are greater if the U.S. helps to overthrow the regime, whose arsenals could then be looted by whichever anti-regime forces happen to come across them first. Containing the conflict in Syria is desirable, which is precisely why the U.S. shouldn’t do anything to further internationalize the conflict. U.S. cooperation with Turkey and the Gulf states has already done enough damage. There’s no sense in compounding the error.

The goals that Ross describes are mutually contradictory: fueling the conflict and taking sides in it make it more difficult to contain the conflict and limit its destabilizing effects on neighboring countries. If the U.S. won’t be able to influence “the realities on the ground without providing lethal assistance,” then so be it. Influencing “the realities on the ground” isn’t something that the U.S. needs to do, and the U.S. is unlikely to have much influence on those realities even if it begins directly providing weapons. Ross talks up the idea of a “no-fly zone on the cheap,” which is what he’s calling the bad idea of using Patriot missiles to create a small no-fly zone at the Turkish-Syrian border. The “no-fly zone on the cheap” is the very definition of a half-baked idea. The “no-fly zone on the cheap” wouldn’t be as effective as its advocates want, and it would run into strong political opposition from most NATO members. NATO members were willing to provide the Patriot batteries for the purposes of defending Turkey against possible Syrian attack, but they aren’t going to agree to using them for a completely different purpose.

Ross tops off the bad case for Syrian intervention with this claim:

If we want diplomacy to work with Iran on the nuclear issue, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei must be convinced that the United States will actually use force if negotiations fail — and America’s hesitant posture toward Syria signals not readiness to use force, but reluctance.

First, reluctance to plunge into Syria’s civil war tells us nothing about whether the administration is willing to launch an attack on Iran. That’s not good news, since war with Iran would be folly, but it means that Ross’ concerns here are unfounded. Does Ross believe that diplomacy with Iran will be more likely to succeed if the U.S. takes an even more aggressive role in toppling an Iranian ally for the purpose of weakening Iran’s position in the region? On the contrary, an Iranian regime that sees the U.S. successfully toppling yet another government in the region will become even more fearful that they are next on the list, which will make acquiring a deterrent against attack that much more attractive and it will make a negotiated settlement that much less appealing.