The Syria conference underway in Geneva to transition from the rule of President Assad will fail, and the Obama team knows it. There is no incentive now in the Assad or rebel camps for diplomatic compromise, and the U.S. knows that. Nothing the U.S. and its allies are doing or planning on the military front will compel President Assad to step aside, and the White House understands that full well. The reality on the ground today is that American-helped moderate rebels continue to flounder, while Assad's forces and those of the jihadi extremists prosper. Obama officials see this as well and realize that nothing they are doing or are likely to do will alter those facts.
So, if President Obama understands what he is doing will fail, why is he doing it? The answer is that the Obama administration sees no viable alternative. Obama officials simply can't bear the thought of joining hands with Assad, even if temporarily and even in the right anti-jihadi cause. And they simply don't see any way to push the moderate rebels into harness with Assad, even against the dreaded extremists.
But there is an alternative that may be viable. It starts not just with understanding the current course is failing, but that the costs of failure to U.S. power in a still critical area of the world are too high. It begins with realizing that Washington must pressure moderate rebels and Assad (with Russian help) to set aside their mutual hatreds and focus on what they both see as the much larger long-term danger to them both – the jihadis.