Right now Russia is launching strikes into Syria. Although its exact motives are disputed, it is clear that the U.S. has little control of what is occurring on the ground, and little control over the details of a solution. A change of strategy is needed.
The current strategy has failed. The number of U.S. trained fighters a few weeks ago was reported to be only "four or five" by a top general despite having spent $500 million on a train and arm program, although it has increased since then. CNN stated "The government's plan to train moderate rebels has been a flop. The goal was to train 3,000 to 5,000 fighters a year. So far the U.S. has trained an estimated 75 rebels- some of whom were kidnaped as soon as they crossed into Syria" Over 1/4th of the military equipment has been given to the al-Nusra Front, an Al-Queda affiliate in Syria. Meanwhile, the most effective groups in Syria besides the regime are the al-Nusra front and IS(Islamic State). For well over a year, the 'moderate' opposition, including the Free Syrian Army, has been ineffectual. Some have disbanded all-together. Meanwhile, radical opposition is advancing on Assad. Despite U.S. led coalition airstrikes, the war with IS(Islamic State) is either considered a stalemate or very small gains are being made. This is not very encouraging, and IS is still advancing on Assad. A strategy to train and arm the moderate rebels may have been viable in 2011, but is not now.
A partition of Syria still could work, similar to one proposed in one of my earlier posts. Although the situation in Syria has changed, the basic premise remains sound: that it will be nearly impossible to ever stabilize Syria with its current borders. The partition is already de-facto, there should be a plan to make it de-jure for a post IS Syria.
Knowing that a partition is still unlikely to happen, the best option appears to be Assad. Assad is a cruel dictator, but he is the least bad option. Unlike the Nusra front and IS, the Assad regime shows no indication of wanting to destroy Israel, the border had been quiet for nearly 40 years when the Civil War started. When in power and not facing rebellion, Assad does not terrorize his people to nearly the extent that IS does. Unlike the al-Nusra Front, the Assad regime may use brutal warfare, but it does not commit terrorist attacks. The most recent UN estimate of the death toll is about 220,000, but not all of it is Assad's fault. After all, pro-government fighters are dying as well, and not all civilian casualties have been caused by the regime.
The question for anyone who wants to remove Assad is what do to next. As seen in Libya and Iraq, once the government is removed, there is a power vacuum that needs to be filled, leaving the country highly unstable. Colin Powell had a rule known as the "pottery barn rule": you break it, you own it. Unless Americans are willing to send a large military force to Syria for many years at the costs of hundreds of billions of dollars, any further action to bolster the Syrian opposition is a bad idea.
However, not fighting Assad may not be enough. If Russian intervention does not work and Assad loses, radical rebels or even IS could take Damascus and Aleppo, the two largest cities in Syria. In a scenario were Assad keeps losing, the U.S. may need to implicitly support Assad. Stated support would be a bad idea, because it would anger Sunni allies and much of the Muslim world.
At the very least, any plan for peace will require Assad to leave only after a long period of time, if at all. If we truly care about the people of Syria, the Civil War needs to end soon. With a diplomatic solution looking more and more unlikely, unfortunately the world's best bet is with the regime.
Just a side note, the proposed no fly zone is a terrible idea. With Russian planes in the sky, it would be either ineffective, possibly humiliating if the U.S. backs down, or extremely confrontational if Russia does not abide.