Tony Karon writes: Senator John McCain may be cranking up the political heat on the Obama Administration over Syria amid reports of a new massacre at Hama, but don’t expect Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to berate Kofi Annan over the failure of his peace plan when she meets the U.N. special envoy in Washington on Friday. Clinton knows better than the pundits and politicians bashing Annan that his mission is not an obstacle to more decisive action — it’s a product of the limited leverage and poor options available to Western powers to bring about regime change in Syria. The Administration is sticking with Annan’s failing plan because the alternatives seem even worse. Still, it’s also a safe bet that Clinton won’t like the special envoy’s message about what needs to be done to implement a viable negotiated solution.
Annan is more acutely aware than any of his critics why neither Syria’s regime nor its opponents have implemented the six-point peace plan to which they signed on in April. There’s no real “or else” option because the Western powers are unable or unwilling to go to war in Syria. The fact that Russia and China will block any U.N. authorization for foreign military intervention provides a convenient excuse for avoiding military action, but that camouflages a deeper apprehension among Western powers about being sucked into a potential quagmire in the Levant.
Annan’s mission, then, wasn’t to deliver ultimatums to Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, but to find ways to bridge the vast chasm between the Western and Arab powers aligned with Syria’s opposition, and those like Russia, China and Iran either actively or passively backing the regime. And despite the rhetoric in Washington, it ought to be noted that the State Department sharply criticized the recent announcement by the rebel Free Syrian Army that it would no longer abide by Annan’s cease-fire plan. Still overwhelmingly outgunned by the regime, the rebels appear to be hoping that, sooner or later, the regime will unleash a bloodbath so appalling, it will force Western governments to use their own military power to finish off Assad. That’s an expectation the U.S. is clearly seeking to discourage. [Continue reading…]