There is something about Syria. It produces wishful thinking in the most surprising quarters. “We do believe,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated on July 24, “that it is not too late for the Assad regime to commence with planning for a transition to find a way that ends the violence and begin the serious discussions that have not occurred to date.” Really? Does the administration truly believe that a managed transition in Syria is possible?
Apparently it does. Five days after Hillary Clinton spoke, Leon Panetta, the Secretary of Defense also emphasized the need for an orderly transition of power. “The best way to preserve…stability,” he said, “is to maintain as much of the military and police as you can, along with security forces, and hope that they will transition to a democratic form of government.”
Anyone who thinks that this hope is grounded in reality should read the very clear-sighted analysis of my colleague, Ken Pollack. Syria, he explains, is in a civil war. Such conflicts have a logic all their own, one that we ignore at our peril. Ken’s analysis lays the basis for a realistic discussion of the stark choices that Washington truly faces. It is required reading.
I think it's unusual for the chief of staff to go on a trip, particularly on a trip this long. The chief of staff is usually more of a chief operating officer in the White House itself, and normally when your principal—whether it's the president himself or the head of Cabinet agency—goes abroad, you have his deputy and those folks staying behind to help manage operations in his absence.