IF YOU MASSACRE enough people can it keep you in power? It’s no longer a hypothetical question in Syria.

Hassan Hassan, an editorial writer for UAE-based The National newspaper, ponders the question over at Foreign Policy.

These bottom-up dynamics are important to explaining the situation on the ground. Rank-and-file security officers and ragtag shabbiha militias, which represent the tip of the regime’s spear, believe in extreme violence and have little regard for compromise. They think the regime has been too lenient, should have acted decisively from day one, and that Assad failed where his father succeeded in crushing a Muslim Brotherhood-led uprising in the early 1980s. The regime had tried in the beginning to balance between “public understanding” and these elements. But even if Assad wanted to shift his strategy, these elements would now make it difficult to stop the violence.

[...] The international community also has a role to play. In the absence of consensus on the U.N. Security Council, the United States and its allies in the region should provide military and financial assistance to the rebels that will allow them to repel catastrophic attacks, whether from land or air, on neighborhoods from which the fighters operate.

This comes as the call for action in Syria from the outside, with Pres. Obama leading the way, gets louder. From James Traub:

The United States has a profound interest not only in bringing the slaughter in Syria to an end, but in having a meaningful presence on the ground when that happens — as it did in Libya thanks to the NATO air campaign. It will not be easy, under any circumstances, to prevent Syria from collapsing into religious and ethnic enclaves, or into a war of all against all. But if Washington remains on the sidelines, as it has until now, it will have little influence with those who will ultimately prevail, and thus little ability to help shape the post-Assad landscape.

Obama might decide to postpone the decision until after the election, but that would be an act of consummate cynicism. He should act now, before it’s too late.