The time has not yet arrived for U.S. military involvement.
Dismay over the continued violence in Syria is understandable and should impel the United States, other "friends of Syria" and the United Nations to support relief measures including, if necessary, the creation of safe havens for refugees.
But the Obama administration is right to stop short of either arming Syrian rebels -- who, according to U.S. intelligence officials, have been infiltrated by Islamic extremists from outside the country -- or engaging in direct military intervention. Advocates of military involvement exaggerate the ease with which the United States could shape events in Syria and underestimate the dangers.
The civil war in Syria, an echo of the Arab Spring but also increasingly a sectarian struggle and a proxy battle between Sunni and Shiite Muslim nations, is a humanitarian disaster. In August, as many as 5,000 people were killed, and the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says that more than 100,000 Syrians fled their country during that month, doubling the number of refugees to 235,000. More than 1 million Syrians may need emergency food aid.
The time may come when the only alternative to a bloodbath in Syria is military intervention by the United States and other outside powers, with all the attendant risks. But it has not yet arrived.