The Financial Times calls for Western military support for the Syrian opposition. Their editorial makes a point that undermines their argument:
While he continues to be propped up by Russia and Iran, he has every incentive to prolong the war, even if he has no chance of prevailing militarily [bold mine-DL].
What the FT editors propose to do now is to give the opposition every incentive to continue fighting even if it has no chance of prevailing militarily. Seeing a drawn-out, destabilizing conflict in Syria, the editors propose that Western governments work to make it last even longer, which will cause even greater regional instability. What they propose is not a remedy to any of the evils they describe, so it is no different from any of the many other calls to arm the opposition in Syria. It satisfies the impulse to act, but simply adds unnecessarily to the killing.
Some of the Gulf states are already providing some military aid to the Syrian opposition, and that aid is reportedly going to jihadists. The idea that Western governments can prevent the same thing from happening with the weapons they might provide is mostly wishful thinking. Western governments should want to have no part in Syria’s conflict, as this will lead gradually and inexorably to demands for still greater involvement down the road. Meanwhile, a proxy conflict with the governments that back the Syrian regime will increase tensions with Assad’s patrons and potentially make conflict with Iran more likely than it already is.
The editorial continues:
Russia’s split with the international community, meanwhile, also rules out any consensus on a UN-led intervention.
This is a standard complaint, but it’s very important to remember that “the international community” is not in agreement on what to do in Syria. To the extent that there is any agreement, it is that outside governments should not become directly involved in the conflict. Yes, Russia is opposed to outside military intervention, but then so are Brazil, India, China, most European governments, Turkey, and the United States. If it were otherwise, does anyone think that the lack of U.N. authorization would stop Western governments from intervening as they did in Kosovo?
The editors go on to say:
There have to be safeguards on how these weapons will be used.
How would these safeguards be enforced? If Western-backed forces use their weapons in atrocities against pro-regime or neutral civilians, will their patrons be able to take the weapons back? Of course not. Will their patrons halt the supply of weapons to their new proxies? That’s doubtful. Once Western governments commit themselves to backing certain armed factions, political incentives will direct them to ignore their proxies’ crimes.