Editor's note: Shadi Hamid is director of research at the Brookings Doha Center and a fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. The views expressed in this article are his own.
By Shadi Hamid - Special to CNN
A last-ditch effort to put an end to the bloodshed in Syria failed on Saturday, with Russia and China exercising their veto at the United Nations. With that fateful decision, the conflict moved to another, more dangerous stage. Those who warn that Syria will descend into civil war are a bit behind: It is already in civil war. Now it will only intensify.
In the months leading up to the U.N. vote, Syria's opposition has grown more militarized. Rebel forces, under the banner of the Free Syrian Army, gained considerable traction after a shaky start. The U.N.'s failure to act may have been the best recruiting tool the FSA could have hoped for, and its ascendancy is now a nearly foregone conclusion.
Meanwhile, after first opposing any resort to armed resistance, the Syrian National Council, the country's most representative opposition body, has made an important shift. It has now "pledged to support" the FSA, and the two groups are attempting to increase coordination.
Where does that leave the international community? The U.N.-endorsed norm of "responsibility to protect" (sometimes boiled down to "r2p") mandates a collective response when states wage war on their own populations.
The Syrian regime, however, is making a mockery of the notion, with its brutal assault on the city of Homs just as the U.N. vote was taking place. Either the international community takes r2p seriously, or it doesn't. We have to decide.
As I've argued before, military intervention remains premature. But, in light of recent events, the time has come to carefully consider the various military options available, determine their feasibility, and begin to judge whether they would cause more good than harm. Of course, no one should take such intervention lightly. But just as proponents of intervention must make their case for how the military option could "work," opponents of intervention face a similar burden of explaining how staying the current course will work.
If the opposition itself has chosen the military option - and this seems increasingly the case - then the question is this: Can a ragtag army of perhaps 10,000 Syrian rebels defeat an army that while, far from invincible, enjoys an overwhelming advantage in numbers, equipment and firepower? The opposition may have millions on their side, with Syrians continuing to protest en masse throughout the country. But it's difficult to see anything less than a disastrous stalemate without the international community helping to tip the balance.