Shockingly, The New Republic favors a limited intervention in Syria:

Perhaps the most important is that we know so little about the rebels whose side we would be taking. What kind of country would they build in Assad’s wake? Would the Sunni majority, once in power, exact revenge against the Alawi minority?

To this objection, we would simply say that, while questions about the country’s future are important, right now the question that matters most is how to stop a nasty regime from killing people daily in the streets. Should we really allow innocent people to be killed by this government because the next government could be far from perfect?

The editors acknowledge that this may be the most important objection to an intervention, they effectively ask whether the next government would preside over large-scale sectarian violence, and then they dismiss the entire issue with little more than a wave of the hand. “That’s important, but we can’t worry about that now,” they might as well say. The issue isn’t just that the next government might be “far from perfect,” but that the next government might preside over the mass expulsion and/or massacre of at least a tenth of the population of Syria (and that’s before we consider what would happen to the other religious minorities), or the state could collapse into a sectarian bloodbath in which all communities suffer. Another way to ask the question might be, “Should we be so eager to take sides in another country’s civil war when that could end up facilitating even more mass murder and/or a regional refugee crisis?”

This is what the editors call for:

All we are recommending is that the United States and its allies look for ways to help the rebels hold off Assad’s troops, by arming them or using some degree of airpower on their behalf, or both.

Marc Lynch has written a report for the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) that addresses the problems with such recommendations:

These proposals are problematic. In practice, safe areas would require carving out a part of Syria from the sovereign control of the state and providing the military means to defend it. Safe areas could most easily be established and protected in open rural land, but the threatened civilians live in dense urban centers. Creating and protecting urban safe areas would require establishing military control over those areas, which is effectively equivalent to direct military intervention. Humanitarian corridors would be extremely difficult to protect, and could create a major refugee crisis if desperate civilians rush into designated safe zones or neighboring countries.

Lynch also describes the problems in using airpower:

Regime forces and the opposition are primarily clashing in densely packed urban areas. In contrast to Libya, there are no front lines to police, few tank convoys to destroy on desert highways and no offensives by rebel armies for which an air campaign would clear a path. Civilian casualties would inevitably result from a bombing campaign against ill-defined targets in urban areas with extremely limited human intelligence.

He restates his earlier objections to arming the opposition:

Providing arms to the FSA might hasten Asad’s fall, but at the cost of a far bloodier conflict, greater divisions among the opposition groups and a more difficult transition if Asad falls from power. First, the regime would respond by quickly escalating its attacks, and would likely discard whatever restraint it has thus far shown in order to avoid outside intervention. It is unlikely that arms will give rebels enough power to defeat the regime on the battlefield and overthrow it, given the immense imbalance in favor of regime forces.

Lynch anticipates the objection that Iran and Russia are already providing arms to the regime:

It would also be very difficult to stop Russia, Iran or others from supplying fresh arms and aid to Asad once the opposition’s backers are openly doing so.

The main reason arming the opposition doesn’t make sense is that it isn’t likely to achieve any of the goals that supporters of this measure seek:

Providing arms to a relatively weak opposition will not necessarily close the military gap – it might simply lead to a bloodier conflict.

Lynch also sees it as a stepping stone to escalation down the road:

However, if arming the opposition fails to solve the crisis relatively quickly, which is likely, there will inevitably be calls to conduct the airstrikes discussed above. In other words, what appears to be an alternative to military intervention is actually more likely to be a step towards military intervention. Arming the opposition is therefore a misguided, risky and potentially disastrous option.

Experience in the Balkans should tell us that interventions rarely stay “limited.” Initially “limited” intervention in Bosnia gave way to supporting Croatia’s Operation Storm and imposing a political settlement enforced by tens of thousands of NATO soldiers. Bosnia and Kosovo remain dysfunctional Western protectorates to this day. These “successful” interventions have required significant investments of resources, and they were originally undertaken at a time when America and Europe had far more resources to spare. Advocates for “limited” interventions almost always understate what will be required of the U.S. in the months and years to come, and then once the U.S. is committed they come back to demand that the U.S. steadily increase its involvement or risk losing credibility. As it is, the editors are already asking for a policy of escalating the conflict inside Syria with no foreseeable end to the U.S. commitment.