US military documents from 2011 and 2016 reveal that although officials wanted a Syrian regime change in theory, they thought it was highly unlikely to actually happen — and hoped that if President Bashar al-Assad was overthrown, he would not be replaced by an opposition-led Syrian democracy but, rather, the same Alawite-Baathist ruling structure would continue. The end result was to be the decimation of the democratic opposition, the consolidation of Islamist forces and regime preservation.
‘The US has given up on the overthrow of Assad in Syria’, wroteRobert Fisk this summer. Indeed, as the Russian-backed Syrian army prepared to execute its final offensive on Idlib, western governments appeared to signal their acceptance of a bloody victory for Assad, despite the ritual denunciations.
But at the last minute, Russia and Turkey agreed a truce to ward off a Russian-led attack for at least a month, and establish a buffer zone to protect 3 million civilians. The deal will involve hashing out how to remove extremist rebels from the buffer zone, and Turkey has announced it will send more troops into Idlib.
As the Idlib offensive loomed, the West, curiously, did little of substance in any particular direction. According to two newly uncovered US military documents, western reticence might be because that the US was never really committed to overthrowing Assad, due to a self-serving strategy that has been wildly misunderstood.
The documents suggest that both early on and toward the later phase of the conflict, senior US military officials had not given any credence to the democratic aspirations of Syrian protestors, but had merely sought to use them as a tool to sideline expanding Iranian influence. Toppling the regime was dismissed as a highly improbable scenario, with officials indicating they believed the survival of an authoritarian Baathist governing structure — with or without Assad — was inevitable.
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