Josh Rogin has a nice scoop about how the Obama administration is struggling to come up with a Plan B for Syria, should the current diplomatic push not result in a real let up in violence.

New options are now being considered internally, including another discussion of setting up buffer zones inside Syria, one administration official confirmed. The administration has also authorized direct contact with the internal Syrian opposition, including the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and at least one State Department official has met with the FSA’s nominal leaders in Turkey. [Emphasis mine]

The rethink comes eight months after Obama explicitly demanded the Syrian leader’s removal, saying, “The time has come for President Assad to step aside.”

His administration is still struggling to come up with a way to make that call a reality.

There’s a growing consensus inside the administration that the violence in Syria is not abating and that multinational diplomatic initiatives such as the plan put forth by U.N. special envoy Kofi Annanare not convincing Assad to enter into a political process to transition to democracy, much less yield power and step down.

Clinton hinted Wednesday that fresh options are under discussion.

“We are at a crucial turning point,” Clinton said, speaking from Brussels. “Either we succeed in pushing forward with Kofi Annan’s plan in accordance with the Security Council direction, with the help of monitors steadily broadening and deepening a zone of non-conflict and peace, or we see Assad squandering his last chance before additional measures have to be considered.”

The Buffer Zone idea, which was laid out in an op-ed by former State Department official Anne Marie Slaughter, would put the United States on a collision course with the Security Council. Creating this buffer zone, requires that foreign militaries invade Syria to enforce the buffer zone. This means war. And the only international body that can legally sanction this kind of agression is the Security Council.

Right now, it is very, very hard to imagine Russia or China would not veto a resolution authorizing war against Syria.

This “Plan B” would put the United States on a collision course with Russia and China, and also one of the very foundational pillars of international law.

UPDATE: John Kerry, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sounds the right note on the Safe Zones idea during his opening remarks to a Senate hearing on Syria.

Finally, we should weigh the risks and benefits of establishing “safe zones” near Syria’s border areas. Safe zones entail military action and would require significant support from regional powers, and therefore requires a more significant vetting and strategic work-through.  I believe the unity of the Council and coordination of the FSA must develop significantly before one could create those zones.  But our interests and values demand that we consider how they could be constructed and what this would mean for Syria’s neighbors.

 

 

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