If the US has learnt one thing from its experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is that putting a country back together is much harder than tearing the it apart. Which is why Washington is much less keen to tear down Syria's Ba'thist regime until there is at least some semblance of a plan about what happens the day after.
If you are a micro-state like Qatar or a regional power like Saudi Arabia, such issues seem not to matter so long as Sunni primacy is reinforced. But for architects of an effective and coherent policy towards Syria, the difficulty is to leave enough of the regime intact so that the country can function and transition, ensure that Assad and much of his unseemly regime is moved on, and simultaneously try to stop religious and ethnic retribution following an increasingly bloody civil war.
This would be hard enough if there was a government-in-waiting headed by a statesman of gravitas, willing and able to maintain the unity of a complex state in the throes of throwing off decades of authoritarian one-party rule.
Instead, there is a band of self-interested exiles who squabble over every detail to ensure that personal agendas triumph over national interests. The latest farcical meeting in Cairo gave further cause for Western powers to shake their heads at the inability of exiled Syrians, let alone regional powers, to come up with a coherent policy platform.
And what of the armed opposition? It will take something special to get the in-country rebels to show respect for their expatriate political leadership. As the armed opposition fight and die in Syria against a superior military, the Syrian National Council engages in fistfights over who is entitled to what position. This video is a good example of what the Free Syrian Army is facing inside Syria (warning: there are some graphic bits), and how they must view the self-interested antics of the Syrian National Council.
The video is also notable for two other elements. Firstly, for those who have ever traveled to Crac des Chevalier (see photo), be prepared to see it in an entirely different light. The second and more disturbing element is the appearance of at least one FSA child soldier (at 1:13), lending weight to UN concerns. The FSA also faces international criticism for human rights abuses.
Those who criticise the US for failing to take military action against the Assad regime rarely if ever talk about the second-order effects. Given the petty-mindedness of the political opposition, the dubious human rights record of the armed opposition and the presence of some radical Islamist groups, Washington is showing the type of measured response that is the only responsible way to resolve the situation. Nobody thought that the removal of the Assad regime was going to be easy, but the alternative leadership hasn't helped matters.
Photo by Flickr user stijn.