American involvement in Syria has been in a ‘trial-and-error’ mode since late spring of 2011.
Early on, the Obama administration took its cue from the Arab tribal kings and princes of the Persian Gulf, who also happen to be very close to the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (all heavy Clinton Foundation donors and all that).
The Wahhabi regimes of Qatar and Saudi Arabia saw an opportunity to spread their own intolerant version of Islamic rule and to deal a blow to a secular but repressive Syrian regime that is an ally of the Iranian mullahs. As they poured money and weapons into Syria, the early uprising shifted into a confessional and sectarian war rather than a fight for democracy as envisioned by some naive Western interventionists. This situation was made worse by the strong promotional campaign waged by the rich and powerful Salafi (and Muslim Brotherhood) movements on the Gulf.
Thus the Syrian uprising of 2011 was doomed from the start as money, weapons, and Salafi volunteers poured in through Turkey and Lebanon and Jordan. All of it from the Gulf region, although soon the Jihadis started flowing in from other Arab countries and then from Europe.
So, the early mantra quickly became: Bashar Al Assad Must Go!
Soon this shifted to a new hopeful mantra: Bashar Al Assad’s Days Are Numbered!
Or, later on: Bashar Al Assad’s Remaining in Damascus is Untenable!
Even the hapless Saudi foreign minister boldly declared (and mimicked by his Qatari counterpart) that: Assad Will Go Either by Diplomatic or Military Means! (Presumably they mean American military means since these two countries don’t have enough forces to occupy one city in Syria)
All this was bought by the U.S foreign policy establishment, especially Secretary Clinton, as inalienable gospel, part of the policy Sharia as preached and taught to the Americans by the meddling kings, princes, and potentates of the Persian Gulf region. Even as the same kings, princes, and potentates were eagerly oppressing and repressing and persecuting their own peoples. Even as they were pouring money into a military coup in Egypt which re-instated the Mubarak regime.
Pressure by some U.S. lawmakers like John McCain and Joe Lieberman (where the hell is he now, by the way) helped nudge the Clinton State Department toward the Gulf position, especially after every visit by these senators to Riyadh, Doha, and Abu Dhabi, none of them known as a bastion of democracy and freedom of expression.
Now Turkey has shifted its position. Initially it was an enabler and conduit of weapons and money and Jihadis into Syria (what I called the Erdogan Trail). But the complex Syrian war spread into Turkey itself. Even as post-coup Erdogan announced a shift in Syrian policy, Turkey has become more involved in Northern Syria. Mainly a result of gains by the Kurdish minority with American help.
Now we know that the Turks have their own Islamist/Jihadist proxies fighting in Northern Syria. All composed of Arab Jihadi fighters.
Iran, Russia, Lebanon and others (including some Iraqis, some Afghanis, etc) are siding with Assad.
Part of the Obama administration is fighting against ISIS and the regime, or thinks it is. This fight is based on Arab Salafist Jihadis.
Part of the Obama administration is siding with the Kurds against ISIS and against other Jihadis. And presumably against the Assad regime.
So, at least two groups that are American supported are fighting each other in Syria.
Saudis and/or Qataris have apparently recently supplied their own favorite Salafi Jihadis with advanced American and other Western weapons. Some of these weapons, like anti-tank or ground-to-air missiles require prior approval by the exporters.
Even as the Assad regime gains ground on some fronts, like the Damascus area and Aleppo, the war becomes more complex and more intractable. Hence it is now almost impossible to structure a political solution that can stop it.
When and if Clinton becomes president, her instinct will be to expand the American military role in Syria (why else do you think all these hawks and Neocons are supporting her?). The media, what is called mainstream American media, are in their 2002 pre-Iraq War mode now. They are heavily “reporting” on regime atrocities, reviving the old WMD stories, talking about the old but now defunct “Red Lines”. The CNN network is now, as it did in 2002-2003, leading the military charge into the morass of Syria. It, and other media, are working to make a new more Americanized war in Syria as publicly acceptable as they did the war in Iraq in 2003. (FYI: the American people have not seen any uncovered Iraqi WMDs, yet).
The Russians probably know all this about the prospects for 2017. They are now solidifying and expanding their presence in Syria, possibly as a means of preempting this expected Clinton policy next year. The Russians and their allies seem to be making it impossible to establish the no-fly zones that are so dear to Democrat hawks, except maybe in the Kurdish regions which border Turkey.
A repetition of Iraq? Possibly a different version of another mistake. But who is the “real enemy” in Syria that seriously threatens the West in its own homeland: in Paris, London, and New York? That is the question that should decide expanded intervention.