Our lack of active involvement on the ground in Syria also means that, when the Assad regime finally does fall, the Syrian people are likely to feel little goodwill toward the United States — in contrast to Libya, where profound gratitude for America’s help in the war against Moammar Gaddafi has laid the foundation for a bright new chapter in relations between our two countries.

Much more than in Libya, moreover, the United States has significant national security interests at stake in Syria. These include preventing the use or transfer of the regime’s massive chemical- and biological-weapons stockpiles — a real and growing danger — and ensuring that al-Qaeda and its violent brethren are unable to secure a new foothold in the heart of the Middle East. Our decisions and actions have been woefully insufficient to safeguard these interests and others.

The U.S. reluctance to intervene in Syria is, first of all, allowing this conflict to be longer and bloodier, a radicalizing dynamic. Contrary to critics who argue that a greater U.S. role in Syria could empower al-Qaeda, it is the lack of strong U.S. assistance to responsible fighters inside the country that is ceding the field to extremists there.