The Obama administration, stung by reversals in Ukraine and Syria, appears to have decided to expand its covert program of training and assistance for the Syrian opposition, deepening U.S. involvement in that brutal and stalemated civil war.

This stepped-up assistance program is likely to be discussed during talks Friday between President Obama and Saudi King Abdullah. U.S. endorsement of the program would tighten America’s links with Saudi Arabia after a period of noisy disagreement about Syria policy. But it also would complicate already tense relations with Russia and Iran, the two key backers of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Obama appears more comfortable with a covert approach than with direct military intervention, as in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another selling point is that the enhanced aid program would have a counterterrorism focus. The United States would help train Free Syrian Army fighters to combat al-Qaeda extremists, even as the rebels launch guerrilla attacks against Assad’s army. […]