A Free Syrian Army sniper sits in a shooting position. Considered more moderate and secular than other rebel factions, the Free Syrian Army would be a part of an effort proposed by the Obama administration. The proposal includes a $500 million program to train and arm moderate Syrian rebels.
The last shipments of Syria's declared supplies of chemical weapons are safely ensconced aboard the Cape Ray, a U.S. vessel that will destroy the toxins at sea. That's 1,300 tons of chemical weapons that won't threaten Syrian civilians.
Credit officials of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons for accomplishing a tough job in a country devastated by civil war.
A caveat: The job isn't finished. Syrian President Bashar Assad may have more, undeclared chemical weapons. His government still hasn't dismantled a dozen factories that make such weapons. So President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin - who pressured Assad to relinquish the weapons in the first place - can't let up now.
But the battle raging in Syria has grown even more complicated since that weapons deal was made. It is not just Damascus vs. the rebels who seek to topple Assad. There is a third major force in this fight, a fast-rising threat to Assad - and to rebels. The Sunni terror group known as ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, has seized a chunk of Syria and a swath of Iraq. These jihadists have weapons and a huge trove of cash - making them instantly credible players in the region.
ISIL's leaders recently declared a new Islamic "caliphate," demanding allegiance from Muslims worldwide ... or else. ISIL jihadists seek to mete out Shariah justice by severing limbs or heads, to forbid girls from attending school. The ISIL terrorists battle other al-Qaida factions because ISIL leaders consider them ... too moderate.
The global think tank IHS concludes that ISIL is a growing threat because it "has large financial resources and a proven ability to move people across national borders, suggesting that money and expertise can potentially be transferred to allied groups, (which) is likely to be a major incentive for groups to pledge allegiance."
So is Assad, the enemy of our enemy ISIL, now our friend? Or, at least, is his hold on power now a bitter necessity?
Some things haven't changed. Assad has used chemical weapons against his own people; he's a war criminal. He's a close ally of Hezbollah, sworn enemies of Israel. Giving him a wink and a nod would be a betrayal of the democratic hopes of many Syrians.
The Obama administration proposes a $500 million program to train and arm moderate Syrian rebels. Much of that effort would go to the Free Syrian Army, considered more moderate and secular than other rebel factions. Those rebels remain the best hope for a post-Assad Syria that does not become a terror state.
Obama has been reluctant to arm Syrian rebels, fearing that those weapons could wind up in the hands of terrorists. That's a growing risk because of shifting alliances among Sunni groups in Syria and neighboring Iraq. But it's not the greatest risk.
Robert Ford, a former U.S. ambassador to Syria, argues for more military aid to the Free Syrian Army to mount an effective guerrilla war against Assad and more cash to counter al-Qaida groups that are winning the recruitment war.
"We don't have good choices on Syria anymore," Ford wrote in a New York Times op-ed. "But some are clearly worse than others. More hesitation and unwillingness to commit to enabling the moderate opposition to fight more effectively both the jihadists and the regime simply hastens the day when American forces will have to intervene against al-Qaida in Syria."
That's the greatest risk.