It is no secret now — and hasn’t been for some time for those who cared to look — that Syria is a mess and U.S. policy has utterly failed by its own terms. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is in power. Jihadis by the thousands have poured into Syria. WMD’s were used, and Syria has paid no real price for it. The Russia deal predictably is dislodging only a fraction of the chemical weapons. The spokesmen are now in an impossible situation.

A man reacts at a site hit by what activists said were explosive barrels thrown by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the Al-Haidariya neighbourhood of Aleppo February 12, 2014. REUTERS/Saad Abobrahim (SYRIA - Tags: CIVIL UNREST MILITARY POLITICS CONFLICT) A man reacts at a site hit by what activists said were explosive barrels thrown by forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in Aleppo. (Saad Abobrahim/Reuters)

Today, ABC’s Jonathan Karl asked White House spokesman Jay Carney “How can we look at the policy toward Syria as anything other than a failure?”:

MR. CARNEY: John, we provide more humanitarian aid to the Syrian people than any other nation on earth. And we are –

(Cross talk.)

KARL: — admirable, but what I’m talking about is in terms of ending the crisis within Syria. The crisis has gotten worse. Assad’s grip on power has not weakened at all over the past year. And we have our own top intelligence officer saying it’s an apocalyptic disaster. How is that anything but a failure?

MR. CARNEY: The crisis in Syria is a crisis. The circumstances on the ground are horrific. That is why we have to bring the parties together to try to compel them towards a negotiated political settlement, because there isn’t a military solution here. The Assad regime is not going to win militarily. And the Assad — the opposition, the Syrian people, are not going to abide by a future in which Assad continues to govern them. [Emphasis added.]

It’s a crisis all right. Yes, siree. When Carney says that “there has to be a negotiated political settlement” and “the circumstances on the ground are terrible” you wonder if anyone understands the connection between the two. The conditions on the ground, permitted in the absence of effective U.S. policy, make a negotiated solution impossible because Assad has no reason to give up power. This apparently is beyond the White House’s grasp.

The State Department is even worse. In today’s briefing the spokeswoman was asked about graphic tweets of Syrian victims from Sen. John McCain (I’ll quote at length so you can appreciated the degree of cluelessness at Foggy Bottom):

MS. HARF: Well, in all honestly, I haven’t seen his tweets from today, but we absolutely believe that not just people in the United States but around the world need to be fully aware of the horrific atrocities the Syrian regime is perpetrating on its own people. And whether that’s through photos, whether that’s through firsthand accounts, we actually do think that that’s an important way to make very clear to the world why we need to push the Syrian regime to allow access, why we need to work even harder to get a diplomatic solution here and end this conflict, because it is a very – I mean, you heard the President say yesterday the pictures are horrific. And we need to make sure that people around the world know why this is such an important challenge that we need to confront.

QUESTION: And along with his tweets, he put out a statement, part of which reads – and I’m quoting here – we look – that as this horror is unfolding before our eyes in Syria, the thought that haunts him, he says, is “that we will continue to do nothing meaningful about it,” and that “it calls into question the moral sources of our great power and the foundations of our global leadership.” I know you say haven’t seen it, but —

MS. HARF: It won’t surprise you that I disagree with that statement. And I would take issue with the first part and the second part.  . . . So I think we’ve been doing quite a few things that are meaningful. We have put the full diplomatic weight of the United States behind getting a political, diplomatic transition here in Syria. We have worked with the UN and the Russians to get both parties to the table. Today, they sat down at the table together. This is progress. There’s so much more work to be done, but we are heavily engaged in a very complicated process. So I would really take issue with the notion that we’re doing nothing. On the humanitarian side, we are the leading donor of humanitarian aid. We have pushed to get the UN to do something. We’ve pushed to get the Russians to push the Syrian regime to do something. . . .

QUESTION: And it was sort of more of a philosophical argument that “it calls into question the moral sources of our great power.” So I was just curious to get your take on that assessment.

MS. HARF: Well, without trying to guess what he actually means by that, I think right now you see the United States deeply engaged in three intense, in some cases crisis-driven negotiations in the Middle East peace right now precisely because we are standing up for our principles and for our values and for our interests, whether that’s with the Syrian conflict, trying against the incredibly difficult odds to get a diplomatic solution here; whether it’s with Iran, where next week we go to Vienna to try and get a diplomatic solution to one of the biggest challenges we face today; or with Middle East, to try, after decades and decades, to make progress to finally bring peace to this region, to Israel, and to get a Palestinian state. I think that the notion that the United States is not exercising moral authority in the region is just not in any way based in the facts there happening. . . .

QUESTION: But isn’t there anything you or your allies can do to make the regime stop using barrel bombs and air force to bomb the civilians?

MS. HARF: Again, we have been very clear in condemning this action. We have asked the Russians to push the Syrian regime not to do these kind of things, because in fact, they do have some leverage over the Syrian regime. But again, at the end of the day, we can’t impose outcomes here. . .We will work with the international community to end this crisis for exactly that reason, because it needs to stop.

QUESTION: And just one more.

QUESTION: And if the Russians – sorry – if the Russians didn’t deliver – and they didn’t so far – what are you planning to do?

MS. HARF: Obviously, we are always deciding what we’ll – what kinds of policies we’ll undertake, and we’re looking at what options we have. We’re focused right now on the diplomatic side in Geneva II and that process, in possibly getting a Security Council resolution on humanitarian access, and on moving that process forward. We’re committed to that right now. But we’re always looking at the situation, seeing if there’s something else or something more we could be doing.

QUESTION: This came up during the aftermath of the chemical weapons attacks, but what about the responsibility to protect, something which Ambassador Power has long championed? What is it going to take for the United States and its allies to stop a government from attacking its own citizens under the guise of trying to restore order or, crassly, to stay in power?

MS. HARF: Well, quite frankly, that’s exactly what we’re trying to do by getting a diplomatic solution. I would turn the question back and say: What would people suggest the international community do? A full-scale military invasion, operations? That’s not – responsibility to protect is a principle that does not predicate a certain outcome or a certain policy response. Part of responsibility to protect is how you end conflicts quickly. We think the best way to do that is at the negotiating table, and we don’t think there’s a military solution. . . .

This is sad, really. They’ve reduced the idea of liberal interventionism — which their own U.N. ambassador championed — to useless talks with thugs in Geneva. “Meaningful” in the Obama administration means they are trying really hard, but accomplishing nothing. And the Obama team pretends as if the only options are war or fruitless meetings in Geneva, ignoring that it could have acted in much more “meaningful,” albeit limited, ways to push Assad out of power. McCain for years he has advocated a menu of options from a no-fly zone to military assistance to the rebels to an air strike in response to use of WMD’s.

A policy that one can’t defend in any coherent fashion and which results in more than 100,000 dead is a failure, and the person responsible for that is the president. When will he fess up? When will U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power resign in protest?