A professional armed opposition will help to reduce the risks of sectarian strife, revenge attacks, and a protracted civil war after the fall of Assad. Syria has long been a pluralistic haven for Kurdish, Alawite, Christian, Druze and Muslim groups — a unified military force will be committed to keeping it that way, by protecting religious and ethnic minorities and all civilians. It will also work to ensure that any chemical or biological weapons in Assad’s arsenal are documented, accounted for, and remain within the sovereign borders of the country.

It is time that the United States makes good on its many statements proclaiming its desire to bring an end to the bloodshed in Syria by providing strategic support and advanced weaponry to the armed opposition. The Assad regime’s main advantage is air bombardment, and the current weaponry of the armed revolutionaries is insufficient to counter the regime’s warplanes and Scud missiles. But even as the Iranian regime is sending elite forces to Assad’s aid, and Hezbollah fighters flow in across the border with Lebanon to fortify the Syrian military, the opposition’s allies sit on the fence.

It’s time for this policy to end. The United States’ hands-off approach in Syria is only exacerbating the conflict by allowing anti-American and extremist elements to gain a stronger foothold in the country. Without a new, more aggressive strategy from Washington, a stable and peaceful transition to a democratic society will become an increasingly distant goal, and the bloodshed will only continue.