By Hakan Copur and Esra Kaymak Avci
As he approaches the end of his time at the White House, analysts believe U.S. President Barack Obama has failed in his policies towards the war-torn Syria for many reasons, including lack of an "action-based" and "consistent" plan.
The absence of such a strategy to combat Daesh and President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has left attempts to resolve the conflict largely in the hands of the UN and its envoy Staffan de Mistura.
At the start of Obama’s first term, Syria was high on the foreign policy agenda, according to Kilic Bugra Kanat, research director at the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research, or SETA.
When the Arab Spring took hold across North Africa and the Middle East, Obama looked to Assad as the one to undertake political transformation in Syria and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, who served as the Democrat head of the Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee, thought Assad could put a "reformist" agenda in place.
Robert Ford, who had been appointed ambassador to Damascus a year earlier, was sent to Hama to meet the Syrian opposition. However, the White House was surprised by the heavy criticism the move received from the Syrian regime, Kanat said.
Months later the administration began calling for Assad to leave office.
“When Obama said Assad must go, he thought it would have the same result like when he said Mubarak must go,” Kanat told Anadolu Agency, referring to the former Egyptian president. “However, this did not happen and when Assad did not leave nothing happened either.”
During the 2012 re-election campaign, Syria once fell off the White House list of priorities, Kanat said.
However, the crisis spiraled after reports of Assad’s forces using chemical weapons against civilians.
This led to the declaration of a “red line” in U.S. policy towards Syria.
However, Assad’s agreement to hand over his chemical arsenal and the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, again led to the issue taking a back seat, according to Edmund Ghareeb, a professor at George Washington University's International Relations Department.
Both Kanat and Ghareeb agree that the Benghazi attack -- which saw al-Qaeda-linked militants storm the U.S. mission and kill, among others, Ambassador Christopher Stevens -- led to a “risk-free” U.S. approach towards Syria that is built on "inaction."
"This U.S. approach was perceived clearly by the Assad regime, Russia and Iran and therefore the massacres of the regime has increased day by day," Kanat said. "As a result, chemical weapons were used, Daesh grew bigger and began to play a more active role in the region and finally Russia intervened in Syria to back up Assad."
This aversion to risk was reinforced by experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“The U.S. could defeat Assad but that's not the question,” David Miller, vice president of the Middle East program at the Wilson Center foreign policy think-tank noted. “The question is what prevents a reoccurrence?
"How do you deal with Syria the day after the defeat? We defeated Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, right, but what happened?"
Miller said Obama came to be convinced that achieving a solution in Syria through diplomatic channels "was simply not possible."
He added: "Syria is a part of a process of fragmentation and dysfunction... So there are many people who fundamentally criticize the Obama administration’s policies because they argue that since 2011 he could have done far more to prevent the catastrophe that we now see."
Also the civilian casualty in Syria could have been prevented if the U.S. would not oppose Turkey's proposal to establish a no-fly zone in northern Syria and took action in that regard, according to Kanat.
Meanwhile, there are also some criticisms saying that the U.S. is not prepared for the period after Assad leaves as it considers a "secular Assad" a better option for Syria than an "Islamist leader".
With the rise of Daesh in Syria and Iraq in early 2014, Washington’s Syria policy changed with the emphasis placed on a counter-terrorism campaign heavily reliant on airstrikes and U.S. support for forces tackling the group.
As de Mistura tries to find a solution to the five-year conflict at Geneva, large swathes of Syria have been destroyed and hundreds of thousands of people killed while millions have been forced to seek safety outside of the country.