The war in Syria has been ravaging for the past 18 months and has no end in sight. Despite what many analysts and policymakers think, namely, defections from key members of the regime and the security apparatus have been minor. Moreover, desertions from the army, in the thousands, have not altered the existing military balance of power favoring the regime forces over the opposition. The war in Syria is not different from a proxy battle, waged by one group of backers (Iran and Russia) and another, supporting the Free Syrian Army (Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the US). Not all of the players involved realize that its spillover effects, manifesting themselves across sectarian lines, extend well beyond Syrian borders and will have a long-lasting impact upon the regional balance of power.
With Europe constantly on the verge of financial crises, the US already overwhelmed by its election month, Russia and China vetoing UN resolutions against Syria, it is unsurprising that consensus over “red lines” beyond which intervention could not be postponed has yet failed to emerge.
Intervention could take different shapes, as the Turkish leadership often underlines, and as the French have come to appreciate: for a start, the creation of buffer zones of those areas controlled by rebels at the Syrian borders would provide a politically strong signal that the international community will not be a bystander anymore. These areas would subsequently need to be secured through a no-fly zone, patrolled by international air forces. And then, should this fail to meet the target (deter attacks in the minimalist version, a collapse of the regime in the wider interpretation of the policy), a military operation, with limited boots on the ground and as much unmanned aerial vehicles as possible, would come next.
This is on paper. In reality there are numerous events unfolding in parallel, inside and outside Syria, which will have an impact for years to come for Syria and many of its neighbors.
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.