The United States should not attack Syria. Any US military intervention is only likely to make the situation even worse for the Syrian people.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is calling for the United States to start bombing the forces of the Syrian government. Certainly, the pictures, videos and stories coming out of Syria — where at least 7,500 people have been killed in the past year — are horrible. It’s understandable that well-meaning people may think that military intervention is the answer.

But it isn’t. First of all, if the goal is to protect Syrian civilians, such an attack could easily prove counterproductive. Much of the fighting is going on in densely packed urban areas, so any bombings there would jeopardize the population. And a US attack could push the regime of Bashar Assad to unleash even more brutality against Syrians in retaliation.

Secondly, a military intervention is no panacea. There is no clear picture of which targets in Syria should be hit or how exactly military strikes would bring down the regime. Unlike in Libya, where there were massive defections from both the government and army, the dictatorship in Syria has proven quite resilient. Thirdly, an attack by the United States would serve to legitimate the rhetoric out of Damascus about this uprising being a “foreign conspiracy.” It could alienate the very people whom the intervention is supposedly benefiting. Finally, a US bombing attack could lead to a wider war. There are sectarian tensions in the country, which the Assad regime has incited for decades for its own benefit. US military action could enflame these into a full-fledged civil war.

And then there is the related risk that a US bombing could turn this into a regional conflagration. Iran and Hezbollah are allies of the Syrian government, as is Russia, while Saudi Arabia and Qatar are arming the opposition. The spillover of a US attack could embroil the entire region in conflict, with Israel getting drawn in, as well. The United States surely doesn’t need to return to the days of a nuclear standoff with Moscow. Taking the “military intervention option” off the table does not mean there is nothing to be done for Syrians. Refugees are flooding into Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan and need a lot of humanitarian aid.  And the United States should use all its diplomatic influence to try to broker a cease-fire and, ultimately, a settlement that would include Assad stepping down. But that won’t happen at bomb point.

Ramah Kudaimi is a Syrian-American and has a master’s in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University. –The Progressive