This failure to get American humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people has not only worsened the humanitarian crisis but has also created opportunities for extremist groups to provide relief services and thereby win even greater support from the Syrian people. To many, these extremists appear to be the only ones stepping in to help Syrians in the fight. Meanwhile, moderates in the Syrian opposition are being discredited and undercut by our lack of support — including the newly established Syrian opposition coalition, whose formation last month was made possible in part by U.S. diplomacy.

While recent regime defections and battlefield setbacks suggest that Assad’s hold on power is deteriorating, this conflict could grind on for some time, at an awful and escalating cost to Syria’s people, its neighbors and U.S. interests and prestige. It is not too late to avert a strategic and moral calamity in Syria, but doing so requires bold and decisive U.S. leadership that needs to come directly from President Obama.

The United States must rally our allies to channel assistance to the newly established Syrian opposition council for distribution in the rebel-held areas. We must provide weapons and other lethal assistance to the opposition military command. And we must impose a no-fly zone in some areas of Syria, to include using the U.S. Patriot missile batteries en route to Turkey, to protect people in northern Syria from Assad’s aerial attacks.