"The confrontations and violence that began a year ago in Syria have escalated to the edge of civil war. U.S. officials and many analysts believe that President Bashar al Asad, his family members, and supporters will ultimately be forced from power, but few observers offer specific, credible timetables for a resolution to Syria's ongoing political crisis. Some observers warn that the regime's staying power may be underrated. At present, intense violence is generating demands from some international actors for an immediate ceasefire and from others for military intervention to protect civilians. Meanwhile, the complexities of the crisis and the overlapping risks and rewards of various options grow more intricate. […] After a year of unrest and violence, Syria's political crisis is characterized by dilemmas and contradictions. A menu of imperfect choices confronts U.S. policymakers, amid fears of continued violence, a humanitarian crisis, and regional instability. The potential spillover effects of continued violence raise unique questions with regard to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Israel. Larger refugee flows, sectarian conflict, or transnational violence by non-state actors are among the contingencies that policy makers are considering in relation to these countries. The unrest also is creating new opportunities for Al Qaeda or other violent extremist groups to operate in Syria. The security of Syrian conventional and chemical weapons stockpiles has become a regional security concern, which would grow if a security vacuum emerges. Many observers worry that an escalation in fighting or swift regime change could generate new pressures on minority groups or lead to wider civil or regional conflict. Members of Congress are weighing these issues as they debate U.S. policy and the Syrian crisis."
CRS Report for Congress, RL33487