First, the Egyptian model: Let's call it the do-it-yourself (DIY) approach. Here, the military eases Hosni Mubarak out because it refuses to use massive repression and violence against the people and undermine its own power, perks, and influence in a post-Mubarak Egypt.
Second, the Yemeni model: Outside forces with influence and access -- the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), with American help -- ease a wily but weakened President Ali Abdullah Saleh out of power, with promises of immunity and perhaps some future role.
Third, the Libyan model: The international community, empowered by a Security Council resolution and the military muscle of NATO, wage limited war in support of a Libyan opposition that manages (eight months later) to defeat Muammar al-Qaddafi.
Syria really is different than these three. Unlike with the Egyptian military, the Alawis who dominate Syria's military and security services are borrowing a page from our own revolutionary founders: "We're either going to hang together, or hang separately." And the regime will continue to use whatever force is required to protect itself and its corporate interests.
Unlike Yemen, there's no GCC fix for Syria and no immunity for Assad's bloody hands. And Syria, unlike Libya, has real defenses -- chemical weapons, a credible air-defense system, and a real military determined, as its bloody takeover of Homs suggests, to do anything to stay in power -- that will make NATO think twice before launching a war. A Security Council resolution, with NATO as its enforcement arm, seems unlikely as long as the Russians and Chinese won't cooperate. The United States has the power to crush the Syrian military, but there's no will or stomach to deal with the risks and consequences of a sustained intervention -- not yet, anyway.
These challenges haven't stopped a fair number of experts, former practitioners, and leading U.S. senators from urging that old college try. As was the case before the Libyan intervention, calls for stronger measures have come from both liberal interventionists and neoconservatives. Whoever doubted that foreign-policy crises -- like politics -- make strange bedfellows?
Those suggestions include, among other things, arming the Syrian opposition and setting up "no-kill zones," an idea I still have not been able to understand either in terms of its design or purpose. I do see the implications of such an approach, though: an open-ended, ill-advised slide to deeper military involvement without any rigorous calculations of the costs. Others have urged a comprehensive strategy of indirect intervention, which includes training the opposition and the supply of arms, such as mortars, anti-tank weapons, and improvised explosive devices. Inaction, these interventionists point out, also has its costs.
Indeed it does. Syria isn't Libya: It's a more important place, the consequences of sustained sectarian conflict are more severe, and the advantages -- weakening Iran -- much greater. (Bring down the Assads, and you can undermine the mullahcracy in Tehran too.)