Having to deal with the 'now what?' on Syria
April 10th, 2012
10:55 PM ET

Having to deal with the 'now what?' on Syria

By Jill Dougherty

No one in the Obama administration seems ready to say out loud that the Syria peace plan has failed, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came close.

Asked whether the six-point plan on which U.N. and Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan supposedly won agreement from Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad is failing, Clinton told reporters the plan has not achieved a main goal of stopping the attacks.

"In fact, the violence has only got worse over this last week" she told reporters at the State Department.

"Just yesterday Syrian forces fired on refugees fleeing across the boarder into Turkey," she said. "They then lit fires to their own forests to try to flush out opposition fighters and they fired across the boarder into Lebanon."

The final deadline for ceasing hostilities is Thursday, but no one in the administration believes that will happen.

Admitting the plan is a bust, however, would raise the uncomfortable question of what's next. Trying to answer that, several Syria experts told CNN, raises some tough choices for the Obama administration.

One source close to the administration's deliberations on Syria described the mood among officials as "frustration."

"I don't think there's a dramatic next step'" this source said. The United States already is providing "nonlethal" assistance - things such as night vision goggles and communications equipment - to the opposition and is trying to help meld the opposition into a coherent group.

"The harder choices are: Do we get involved or not, and under what circumstances?" this source said. "I don't think that's immediately on the horizon."

One Syrian expert, Jon B. Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at Center for Strategic and International Studies, told CNN, "There are an awful lot of ways that Syria could turn really, really horrible."

He said the administration can't look for a quick fix.

"If the goal is not to just make something better this week in Syria, the goal is how, when you come out of this period, do you try to lay the groundwork for Syria to be a better place in three years than it is now?"

The administration, Alterman said, "is very cautious to get into something without having any idea of how they're getting out of it, because they're in the process of winding down very open engagements - a very open engagement in Afghanistan, a very open engagement in Iraq."

"I think they are cognizant of the limits of our control. ... We don't control it, it's true. But I think the criticism that comes out is that we're not using the influence we have as effectively as we might."

Steven Heydemann of the U.S. Institute of Peace said that publicly acknowledging the Annan mission has failed would be difficult "because the immediate question is, then what?"

"There are answers that would move the administration in a direction that it's not yet prepared to go," he said.

Heydemann said a salient question is, "Does the very clear failure of the Annan initiative lead to further action on the U.N. Security Council and if so, what kind?"

"I would suspect that would turn out to be a nonstarter. But I also suspect that because the political difficulties and the diplomatic challenges associated with shifting into a Plan B or a Plan C are so high that the U.S. will do everything it can to continue to use the Security Council."

One option for the United States, he said, is to find appropriate diplomatic ways to push Saudi Arabia and Qatar to follow through on their promises to get weapons into the hands of the opposition.

Another is to continue to work with the Turkish government on the issue of safe havens for Syrian civilians fleeing the fighting. The Turks have been willing to discuss the idea, Heydemann said, but they have not been prepared to take a decision.

"In a way it's understandable," he said, "because establishing safe zones represents a form of military intervention. And so the Turks recognize how big a step that is."

"If we were prepared to push the Turks to make that a much higher priority in their own planning, we could find ourselves moving closer to that kind of a move and those may well turn out to be a more likely option than anything involving the U.N."

Heydemann and other Syria experts agree: None of these options offer a quick end to the violence and killing. Missions such as Kofi Annan's "continue to deal with the symptoms of the disease," said the source speaking on background, "but this plan doesn't deal with the political disease itself: The regime and its brutal way it rules the country."

"This thing could go on for a while."

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  42. Cheese Wonton

    What exactly is wrong with letting the Syrians bleed? This isn't a fight for a democratic nation with guaranteed minority and religious rights. The war in Syria is one tribe against another, Sunnis against Alawyte Shiites with the handful of Christians hoping they end up on the good side of whomever prevails. The winner isn't going to be concerned of the rights of the vanquished, or the finer points of press freedom, religious freedom or the free expression of ideas, One or the other religious group will dominate the other and the loser will be thoroughly suppressed.
    Where is the US interest in such a tribal war? We can't pick the winner, that is for the Syrians themselves to fight out. Franklly I don't have an ounce of sympathy for either side. Stay out, let them fight their war themselves. Caution Syria's neighbors to stay the heck out too.

    April 11, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Reply
    • jrh0

      Actually you are very wrong here. There are groups within the Syrian rebellion that want to move to a moderate and democratic government. Then there are some other groups within the rebellion that want to push for a hardline Islamic state. It should be pretty obvious which one we should prefer.

      The whole "let the tribes fight it out. One tribe's as good as another, what do we care?" mentality is exactly how we stood idly by and let the Taliban grab power in Afghanistan the first time.

      February 13, 2013 at 3:03 pm | Reply


    April 11, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Reply
  44. JIMMY LE

    We're damned if we do and we're damed if we don't. If we help the Syrians (which we should) we'll end up handing over the country to Islamic Militants who will take advantage of the chaos there and yet again, the US will spend billions of dollars to create another Anti-American country. If we don't, we'll look like cowards infront of the international community. I say, Lets help them get rid of Al Assad and then hand it over to whom ever won't kill their own citizens and agrees to help pay NATO back for the military intervention.

    April 11, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Reply
  45. total non sense

    There is no reasoning with Islam (or muslims) a fews well placed nukes will permanantly solve the syria problem.

    April 11, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Reply
  46. Punisher2000

    Syria should be careful with Turkey. If they continue to act stupid, the Turks will crush them in no time at all.

    April 11, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Reply
  47. Tellusthetruth1234

    Qatar needs to stop funding terrorist groups in Syria. They are not a democratic state themselves and have no place to preach democracy. Qatar and Saudia Arabia, get the hell away from us. Go worry about making changes in your own countries such as letting women drive a car in Saudia Arabia.

    April 11, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Reply
  48. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Six point or no six point, as was the case with Moammar Ghadaffi, Assad has lost his legitimacy to represent and lead the Syrian people and he must go! Do you know why the Palestinian and Lebanese people hate Israel so much? Its not just the occupation that triggers their hate for Israel but the fact that their love ones have died as a result of actions by the Israeli government! likewise, the surviving offsprings and relatives of the Syrian opposition will not stop fighting untill Assad voluntarily steps down or takes a bullet in the head like Moammar Ghadaffi! I remember how critics of the Obama administration were speculating that Libya would remain divided and get consumed in a broader civil war if we intervened! Well, its great to see that all libyans have set aside their differences and are now working together for a democratic Libya that all Libyans can enjoy and benefit from! And they same is awaiting Syria as soon as we can perhaps send in Seal Team 6!

    April 11, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Reply
    • ap

      again you stupid criminals,you are trying to use our solders the american solders to die for israel,let the israelis clean there own garbage.

      April 11, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Reply
    • Cheese Wonton

      I guess that's why Berbers are fighting Arabs west of Tripoli, brotherly love and dedication to a united and democratic Libya. Right. I guess that's why the weak central governmetn can't disarm the various militias. Everyone trust everyone else, huh. Not a chance.

      April 11, 2012 at 7:10 pm | Reply
  49. ap

    as long as israel is in that aria ,peace will never ccm to the meddle east,all this is for the sake of israel,if israel stops causing problems, it will live in peace too, what israel is doing to the palestinians is ok ,what other countries do to save there country is a crime against the humanity.WHAT A JOK

    April 11, 2012 at 8:44 am | Reply
    • Twowolves

      Actually, Israel has expressed support for the opposition. The Occupation has caused lots of problems and mistrust but it has nothing to do with what's happening in Syria.

      April 11, 2012 at 11:29 am | Reply
    • Tellusthetruth1234

      Israel is what they call a golden child. They can cause all kinds of trouble in the world but come out smelling like a rose. No one sat there and held them accountable for killing so many Palestinians and building settlements. Now they are claiming support for the opposition as if they will make peace when the Assad regime is gone. Israel has Palestinian blood on their hand and they are a terrorist state as far as I know.

      April 11, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Reply
      • Punisher2000

        ANd for all you show about what you know, you don`t know much.

        April 11, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • total non sense

      last time i checked. Islam (and muslims) where the ones causing the problem in the middle. remove muslims from the middle east and it's pretty much calm and peacefull. Islam is the ONE AND ONLY CAUSE OF THE TROUBLE.

      April 11, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Reply
      • ap

        before israel was created ,the meddle east was very, very calm people did no kill each other ,after the creation of israel,look what is happening

        April 11, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  50. BoratObama

    Our obligation to Humanity is to HELP Syrians by BOMBING them out of Syria.
    As well we should pay more to mercenaries and provide them with sophisticated weapons to kill more and more and MORE Syrians.
    NOONE can stop us from fulfilling this TRULY HUMAN agenda!

    April 11, 2012 at 3:22 am | Reply
    • ap

      what about ,if there are strangers fighting in our country AMERICA,against our government ,would that be ok? what you do not want to happen to us ,don't do it to other countries,people are dying for the pleaser of some criminal countries,they are using our boys to die for them, if they have problems with the arabs let them fight and be killed, not our solders, enough giving pain to the people of the world, for our pleaser,one day we might have the same pain from other countries.

      April 11, 2012 at 11:15 am | Reply
  51. Jim Carry

    what does it take? Ask Qatar and Saudi they know it better.They are major supporters of Free Syrian Army (aka Al-Qaeda) it is not about democracy in Syria , not even close, this is about Qatar gas pipeline through Syria to Europe. Read better news!

    April 11, 2012 at 2:55 am | Reply
    • ap

      saudi arabia and qatar,as the arabic saying says KOOL KELB ILOO YOVMOO,means EACH DOG ,HAS HIS TIME,beware next is you,and big time ,you better distance yourselves from the zionists,before it's TOO LATE, this is the best advise you can have,lebanon, libya,egypt maroc ,tunisia,syria, and others did the same mistakes ,save yourselves before it's too late.you better change the way you treat your people ,in you countries you treat the women as an slave ,soon,very soon, your countries will have the same fate like syria and the other arab countries ,your religion does not say kill the sunnis or the shites ,put your heads on your shoulders .

      April 11, 2012 at 10:26 am | Reply
    • Punisher2000

      Admit it: your real name is not Jim Carry, your real name is watta carry.

      April 11, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Reply
  52. Frustration

    People die every day because of this brutal regime; what does it take to convince Russia to stop blocking UN plans to stop the massacre? What does it take to convince Arabs, Turkey or the NATO to intervene and stop the slaughter?

    April 11, 2012 at 1:00 am | Reply
    • Bagger

      Yes, they are a brutal regime and I am shocked by what is occurring,and I am all for the FSA and their democratic and pluralistic ideas. Unfortunately, I fear the Free Syrian Army will be overwhelmed by ideologues and theocrats who will are 'hell bent' on grabbing power for the Shia people at the expense of Sunnis. This is why Assad continues his slaughter of innocents and why others are loathe to get involved. Meanwhile people die and if The FSA win it will be a copy of Egypt or iIndeed Iraq and people will continue to suffer.

      Religions of all persuasions should be respected in democracies, but not as a tool of government. I fear for this region and I fear for the world.

      April 11, 2012 at 1:46 am | Reply
    • Punisher2000

      Russia gets a base for its ships in the Mediterranean. They won`t give it up no matter how many Syrians die. They also want to stick it to the US along with China

      April 11, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Reply
    • Punisher2000

      Just for once, why don`t Arabs solve Arab problems. They have the money. They have the so called highly trained armies. This is their problem. Let them clean their own mess.

      April 11, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Reply
    • ap

      russia does not want the repeat of what happened in libya,look what kind of mess libya is now ,it was not helping the libyan people ,it was a crime against the libyan people,this is not what a supposed peace loving government do,

      April 11, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Reply
    • Cheese Wonton

      The only things Russia makes that anyone wants to buy are oil, gas, lumber and military hardware. Russia supports the likes of Syria because they buy lots of Russian made weapons. If Syria was, say, a traditional customer of French weapons, the Russian tune would be very different.

      April 11, 2012 at 7:13 pm | Reply

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