Nothing to be done. It's impossible. Stalemate at the United Nations. These are the mantras that continue to accompany ever more violent and wrenching pictures of massacres and daily killings in Syria. The country has been "sliding toward civil war" for months now without any meaningful change in the international response. The Russian government originally seems to have calculated that President Bashar al-Assad could crush the opposition the way Vladimir Putin crushed the uprising in Chechnya, but that degree of brutality would have brought international intervention for sure. The "Annan Plan" is becoming a synonym for hypocrisy and inaction. The Friends of Syria diplomatic strategy of choking the Syrian economy ever tighter is paying off in food shortages and rising prices, but has offered no evidence that the Sunni business class has the will or the means to effect a coup. And the Alawites appear to be closing ranks; indeed, massacres like last week's slaughter in al-Houla guarantee an increasingly bloody retribution if and when the tide finally turns.
I say "if" and not just "when" because Lebanon teaches us that an even more violent and chaotic version of the present conflict can endure for years, but with the added dimension of growing radicalization of many opposition forces and the provision of a new cause and new territory for al Qaeda-linked or inspired insurgents from Iraq, Yemen, and even Pakistan. These elements truly are the "foreign terrorists" Assad inveighs against; their presence and their IED and car-bomb tactics will solidify support for Assad in Damascus and Aleppo and drive Syria's Alawites ever more deeply into the arms of Iran. At the same time, trouble spills over into Lebanon as Syrian government troops chase Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces across the border, a scenario that could be replicated in Jordan and Turkey. All the while, Syria's Kurds are freer to unite with their Iraqi cousins, with dreams of an expanded Kurdish autonomous zone that is a nightmare for the Turkish government. Add chemical weapons, and the designs of Iran, Israel, Qatar, Russia, and Saudi Arabia into the mix and long-term destabilization of the region's security and economy looms.
An alternative exists, one that grows clearer and nearer every day. Three months ago, I proposed in the New York Times that the Arab League and Turkey, backed by NATO members, should provide a limited number of specialized anti-tank and anti-mortar weapons to Syrian towns willing to declare "no kill zones" -- call them NKZs -- in their towns, meaning no attacks by the Syrian army, sectarian shabbiha militias, the FSA, or anyone else. Public safety, including for peaceful protesters, would be paramount. I suggested the United States provide communications and intelligence to enable the town authorities and any members of any military willing to enforce the NKZ to allow them to track the movements of Syrian government troops. And I suggested that drones from Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United States could fire on Syrian government tanks approaching NKZs.