Yet Assad’s top generals, like him, are members of the minority Alawite clan; the commander of the Fourth Division is his brother, Maher. These men may feel they have nowhere to go in a country and a region where Sunni Islamists are in the ascendancy, and no choice but to fight to the bitter end. Not possible? Ask their enemies in Lebanon, the Maronite Christians, who played out a losing hand for 14 years of civil war in the 1970s and 80s.

Either an Assad victory or a long war would be a disaster for the United States and its allies; a speedy collapse of the regime would be a devastating blow to Iran, for which Syria is a crucial ally. It follows that the best U.S. policy — in what is, at best, a bad and risky situation — is to follow McCain’s advice. This could be easily done through proxies: Persian Gulf states, and possibly Turkey, are already providing aid and probably arms to the Free Syrian Army.