A more serious objection is that backing one side to “victory” does nothing more than implicate the U.S. in the creation of yet-another failed state. Ford and his supporters have a surpisingly naive faith in the power of Syria’s rebel groups to not only depose Assad but to stand up a relatively cohesive and secure state in his wake. Where is this faith coming from? It couldn’t be from Iraq or Libya, where the U.S. directly and indirectly toppled regimes only to see chaos flower in the aftermath. The U.S. directly implanted a government in Afghanistan at the cost of billions of dollars and is now leaving the country at the mercy of a still-potent insurgency.
And yet, we’re supposed to believe that U.S. arms to Syrian rebel groups would buck this trend. On what grounds?
Some might argue that early U.S. intervention would have at least empowered “our guys” at the expense of Assad and may have headed off al-Qaeda. The second claim seems completely false — if rebel groups were able to depose Assad, al-Qaeda would almost certainly have slipped into the country in the resultant chaos (unless you make the over-confident assumption that U.S.-backed rebels would have quickly locked down the entire country). As for deposing Assad, it’s probably true that U.S. support early on could have tipped the balance — but again, it would have tipped the balance toward just as much chaos. Only in that instance, the U.S. would bear a much greater responsibility for the destruction and would be under even more pressure to step up its involvement to clean up the resulting mess.