When it became clear that the Syrian people were determined to take their country back from the Assad regime, I backed them. I still do.

The question we – and by that, I mean those of us who want the Tehran-backed, CCP-friendly Assad regime to go – must face is how to make sure the Syrian people are in a position to chart their own future, rather than have it determined for them by al Qaeda “allies.” History has shown us that al Qaeda and governing do not go well together – even before it decided to take us on.

The goal of our Syrian policy should be a government that is allied neither with the Tehran-Beijing axis nor with al Qaeda. That is harder today that it would have been in 2011, but I believe it is still possible. American aid turned a 1970s Marxist Ethiopian resistance into a 1990s pro-American government. Even our limited, haphazard policy in Libya has led to a proto-republic whose people made it clear that Wahhabists were not welcome. If anything has soured US-Libyan relations, it was our ridiculous insistence in 2012 that angry Libyans were responsible for the Benghazi debacle, rather than al Qaeda interlopers.

Unfortunately, the latest statements from the Administration send the wrong signals. We are about to engage in some form of military retaliation against the Assad regime, but we are not aiming to remove the regime from power. With all due respect, that makes no sense. The Assad regime values its own survival over everything else. Leave the regime in place and it will simply use whatever military action we take to its advantage. Assad can say he took American air strikes on the chin, but survived. Is that the message we wish to send to the Syrian people? Do we want to tell them that if they want help to free themselves, they have to turn al Qaeda?

The question answers itself.

Now, separating non-Wahhabists from Wahhabists will be very difficult, and it will take time, but it would be time well-spent. By contrast, the use of military force that specifically avoids knocking over the regime is far less efficient, and I would say more risky.

I first called for Syria’s liberation seven years ago, but handing it over to al Qaeda doesn’t count. Whether we take military action against the Assad regime or not, we should make it clear that we want a replacement that answers to neither Zhongnanhai not al-Zawahiri – and put time and resources into making that a reality. It won’t be easy, and it won’t be quick, but it beats all of the alternatives.

Cross-posted to the right-wing liberal