In the Wall Street Journal, Elliott Abrams writes:
Syria remains rocked by antiregime protests that have endured since March, and the country may be headed for civil war. That's because unlike in Egypt or Tunisia, sectarian rivalries are central to Syrian politics. That adds an element of danger to the situation—but also points the way toward how dictator Bashar al-Assad may fall, especially if the West takes the proper initiative....
As President Assad has cracked down on protesters with violent force, killing roughly 2,000, Washington's reaction has been slow and unsteady. On May 19, President Obama called for a "serious dialogue" between the regime and the protesters in a speech at the State Department. Yet on July 31, he said "the courageous Syrian people who have demonstrated in the streets will determine its future." Which is it? U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford's July visit to the city of Hama—where he was received by the crowds with bouquets of flowers—is a reminder that U.S. actions remain critically important to any chance of a less violent outcome.
There appears to be no U.S. strategy except prayers that Syria doesn't turn into Libya: a full-fledged civil war. With the NATO military action in Libya now a source of contention both in the U.S. and among NATO allies, the last thing the White House likely wants is increased violence in Syria. Washington's inaction would then make it appear callous and inept—and could eventually lead to calls for a no-fly zone, arming the rebels, or even some form of military intervention.
American leadership can help avoid civil war. Our goal should be to separate the Assad family and its closest cronies from the rest of the Alawite community.