Some Arab diplomats at the U.N. argue, though, that there is a middle way, but it would require the U.S. to lead: First, mobilize the Security Council to pass a resolution calling for the creation of a transitional government in Syria with “full powers” and with equal representation of Alawites and Sunni rebels. If the Russians could be persuaded to back such a resolution (not easy), it could break the stalemate inside Syria, because many regime loyalists would see the writing on the wall and abandon Assad. The stick would be to tell the Russians that if they don’t back such a resolution, the U.S. would start sending weapons to the secular/moderate rebels.

Can there really be such a policy between George W. Bush’s “all-in” approach to transforming Iraq and Barack Obama’s “you-touch-it-you-own-it-so-don’t-even-touch-it” approach to Syria? One should study Iraq. The lesson of Iraq is that deep historical currents were at play there — Sunnis versus Shiites and Kurds versus Arabs. The December 2010 Iraqi elections demonstrated, though, that multisectarian parties and democratic rule were possible in Iraq — and actually the first choice of most Iraqis. But America would have had to keep some troops there for another decade to see that shift from sectarianism to multisectarianism become even remotely self-sustaining. Syria is Iraq’s twin. The only way you’ll get a multisectarian transition there is with a U.N. resolution backed by Russia and backed by a well-armed referee on the ground to cajole, hammer and induce the parties to live together.

It’s the Middle East, Jake.