"Letting things continue to go on the way they are doesn't seem to me to do anything more than prolong the agony on a slow roll," says Pickering. "In the end all conflicts end with politics -- there is going to be a political consequence of the fighting in Syria, and if we don't seek to shape them then we are going to get what we get."
Pickering has been working on a plan to offer a way forward. This would include dropping the precondition that required Assad step down for talks to begin -- an idea Kerry embraced this week -- an immediate humanitarian ceasefire across Syria, and a U.N.-brokered election process that would lead toward a transitional government.
While all sides note that there are no good answers and no easy solutions, Pickering notes that slow diplomatic action has not increased America's odds of finding the best outcome among a slew of difficult options.
"I think we have tended to put the diplomatic side aside as in the ‘too hard' category," Pickering says. "We need to move this fairly soon or we are going to lose the opposition -- certainly the al Qaedization of the opposition has been fairly serious and the fractionation of the opposition is very large."
On the other hand, those who've seen the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from a front-row diplomatic seat say caution is the better part of policy prudence when it comes to Syria.
"There are no good options here and the pressure is growing to do something because that is what we do, we do things," says former Amb. Ryan Crocker, who served as ambassadors to both Iraq and Syria and now is a senior fellow at Yale University. " But everything of significance I can think of doing is likely to make the situation worse, not better and put us in a worse position, not a better one." In Crocker's view, the stalemate with the Russians at the United Nations regarding more concerted action has actually benefited America.
"The Russians are actually doing us a favor and I don't think they are actually going to come off it because they see a rebel victory as deeply destabilizing for the region and particularly for them," Crocker says. "I hope they go on blocking any Security Council action because if you get an ‘all necessary measures' resolution, then you are in a very exposed position if you don't use all necessary means."
What Crocker does favor, however, is more humanitarian aid and non-lethal support, and greater backing for the Syrian opposition, which gathered this week in Istanbul, in the effort to come up with a vision for a post-Assad political transition.
Crocker, however, rejects the idea that Syria is simply Iraq in a different form. He cites the willingness of the Assad regime to wage war by any means necessary as among the key differences, meaning more weapons for the opposition will not necessarily lead to less fighting.
"They have been training, equipping, and organizing for this for a very long time," he says of Assad's forces. "They have got the weaponry, they are ruthless and they know what the alternatives are. Whatever you say about them, they will stand and fight and you did not have that situation with a government in either Bosnia or Iraq."