The new measures are unlikely to placate Syrian rebel forces who have asked for U.S. military equipment and aerial protection in their increasingly bloody fight against Assad. Nor are they likely to please critics at home who say that President Obama is sitting on the sidelines of a humanitarian crisis and a battle that threatens U.S. security interests in the region, current and former U.S. officials said.
In sessions with Assad opponents and Turkish government leaders, Clinton plans to discuss options that do not go as far as direct U.S. intervention. The one-day stop follows her 10-day trip to Africa.
“She certainly will be looking to see whether there is anything else we can do that will have a positive impact rather than a detrimental impact on the overall situation in Syria,” a senior State Department official said Friday.
The cautious U.S. policy could change, as it did last year in Libya, despite the administration’s concern that adding arms to the volatile and increasingly sectarian civil war in Syria would only make things worse.
Clinton is looking for a “clear picture of the effectiveness of what we are currently providing and how it can be made more effective, and then whether or not there are additional things we can do,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss plans for the meetings.
But skepticism about the utility of any military assistance, a lack of international consensus and the upcoming U.S. presidential election make the possibility of any near-term military operation appear remote.
“I just don’t see it coming that fast, with or without the election,” another senior U.S. official said earlier this week, although that official and others agreed that domestic politics have complicated the response to the Syria crisis.
Amid fears that extremists are gaining strength within rebel ranks, some administration officials have argued internally that increased U.S. involvement would improve the likelihood of a democratic outcome and provide greater U.S. influence with the government that eventually replaces Assad. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has said the United States should work with allies who are already supplying weapons to the rebels.
Armed with some tanks and heavy weapons supplied by Persian Gulf states or captured from the Assad army, the rebels have made significant gains in recent days, although not enough to shift the military balance of the 17-month conflict. On Friday, rebel forces acknowledged losing ground in the face of heavy government bombardment in the city of Aleppo but said they were preparing a counterattack, Reuters reported.