Regardless of any negotiated ceasefire, it appears that the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) may take Aleppo. According to Syria expert Josh Landis, they practically already have. Landis has done a turnabout recently in his opinion of the chances of the Assad regime surviving and his favoring of active support for the rebels, though he still falls far short of encouraging military intervention. He says instead that the US should tell Assad that unless he forms a transition government and leaves power after the US election (because nothing so daring is getting done until then), then the US and other Western powers should supply the FSA with anti-aircraft weapons. That would be enough to hand them victory.

Assad has no possibility of regaining control of Syria. He does not have soldiers enough to retake lost cities. But he insists on using his air force to destroy what remains of rebel held towns. This is senseless destruction. He has no hope of recapturing them. It should be stopped. He has been carrying out a scorched earth policy that is killing thousands, leaving hundreds of thousands homeless, and destroying Syria’s precious architectural heritage.

This raises a number of questions, most notably whether direct US and Western support would be sufficient to guarantee an opposition win, whether that is desirable (from the US perspective), and whether such is even necessary.

While I’ve no doubt that the US could play a robust role in toppling Assad if it wished to, Turkey is and always has been the key to the FSA’s survival and potential victory. Assad’s only chance to survive is to break the international coalition set against him, and Turkey is the coalition’s center of gravity; without Turkey, the insurgency dies.

Turkey early on made its anti-Assad position clear. The other week, after shooting down a Syria-bound plane and responding to Syrian mortars in kind, the blogosphere and other media were full of speculation that Turkey might launch a full-scale invasion. Most ultimately dismissed the idea, but a few played with the possible merits to Turkey: stabilizing its neighbor, crafting a favorable regime there, and taking the upper hand in shaping the region to its liking.

The Middle East seems to be shaping up into a field of contestation for four contenders for hegemon: Turkey, Iran, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. I daresay that many, especially in US policy circles, are opposed to Iran winning this contest, but they should also be asking if the other three choices are equal in their implications for the US.

From the US’ perspective, I imagine that Turkey winning the game holds a lot of appeal. The US has less and less ability to play the role of hegemon. It may decide that its best bet is to support a new hegemon with whom it shares many values and a history of cooperation. Of the available choices, that’s Turkey. Then again, Turkey taking over an Arab state would quickly revive old hatreds. They may prefer to influence from without.

If one looks at the Arab Spring in general as coming from the re-balancing of powers post Cold War, Lebanon and Syria both promise to be the major arenas in which these hegemonic contenders fight. All four have friendly parties/proxies in the ethnically mixed states to which they can funnel money and arms, for whom they feel some sympathy, and from whom they can expect some reciprocation. Baring an outright win by one of the four, both Syria and Lebanon may have a long period of instability to look forward to. The US may not have much ability to change that.