James Miller in EA's Live Coverage, 19 April:
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke to the House Armed Services Committee today, which is where Dempsey said that the US was militarily capable of intervening in Syria (see last update). Panetta also said that "the situation is of grave consequence to the Syrian people."
Congress appears to be uncertain which direction to move. Senior Senator John McCain has called for intervention, while others are more hesitant. However, there is a growing consensus that there is not only a humanitarian crisis, but also a growing regional security threat inside Syria.
"I am not recommending U.S. military intervention, particularly in light of our grave budget situation, unless the national security threat was clear and present," said Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., the committee's chairman. "Nevertheless, these reflections lead me to wonder what the United States can do to stem the violence and hasten President Assad from power."
Rep. Adam Smith of Washington State, the panel's ranking Democrat, said the United States should support the Syrian people "but we must be extremely cautious as we discuss the potential for the use of military force."
While Washington is still a long ways away from calling for intervention, this marks a tremendous shift, especially since, as recently as February, Dempsey was sounding concerns about any potential mission in Syria.
Josh Rogin, "The Cable", Foreign Policy, 26 April:
Two top Obama administration officials said today that the diplomatic initiative to end the violence in Syria, led by U.N. Special Envoy Kofi Annan "is failing."
Under intense questioning during Thursday's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, both Kathleen Hicks, the current deputy under secretary of defense for policy, and Derek Chollet, National Security Council senior director for strategy, said that the Annan plan was headed toward collapse and that new options for confronting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were being prepared.
Asked by the committee's ranking Republican, Arizona Sen. John McCain, if Assad had complied with the six points of the Annan plan for Syria, which charts a path away from violence toward political negotiations, Chollet acknowledged that violence is actually increasing.
"Do you believe the Annan plan has succeeded or failed?" McCain asked both officials.
"I would say it is failing," Chollet said.
"I would say it is failing and that Annan himself is extremely worried about the plan," Hicks concurred....
As The Cable reported last week, Chollet was added recently to the senior leadership of the Syria policy team and is coordinating the interagency process to look for a "Plan B" for U.S. policy for if and when the diplomatic initiatives break down....
The Pentagon is planning for the possibility that the U.S. military might be called upon to participate in a mission to establish safe zones along the Turkey-Syria border, according to Hicks.
"We are doing a significant amount of planning for a wide range of scenarios, including our ability to assist allies and partners along the borders," she said.
But Chollet said that Turkey has not yet requested a discussion within NATO about setting up safe zones inside Syria, which would require military support. He added that if Turkey did request such a discussion, NATO would be obliged to take up the matter.