Given that the USMC intelligence considered the Syrian opposition movement in 2011 to be an ineffective force for effecting change in Assad’s status as Syria’s leader, the document notes that it was in the U.S.’ interest for Turkey to “manage” efforts to destabilize the Assad-led government, as Turkey “is the country with the most leverage over Syria in the long term, and has an interest in seeing this territory return to Sunni rule.”
Those Turkish-led efforts would involve gradually building up “linkages with groups inside Syria, focusing in particular on the Islamist remnants of the Muslim Brotherhood in trying to fashion a viable Islamist political force in Syria that would operate under Ankara’s umbrella.” This ultimately came to pass, as the Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army – previously promoted as the main force of the “democratic” Syrian opposition but now well known to be a radical, sectarian group – still takes its marching orders from Ankara.
The document advocates for these efforts to mold the “fragmented” elements of the 2011 Syrian opposition into an “Islamist” puppet force of Turkey in order to support the gradual “weakening of the Alawite [i.e., Assad] hold on power in Syria,” as well as because “Turkey, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and others have a common interest in trying to severely under[mine] Iran’s foothold in the Levant and dial back Hezbollah’s political and military influence in Lebanon.”
Also notable is the fact that USMC intelligence at the time knew that these efforts to undermine the current Syrian government would have a disastrous impact on the country and its civilian population. Indeed, the document notes this on two separate occasions, stating first that “any political transition in Syria away from the al-Assad clan will likely entail a violent, protracted civil conflict” and later adding that “the road to regime change will be a long and bloody one.”
Thus, not only was U.S. military intelligence advocating for the undermining of democratic and secular forces within the Syrian opposition, it was also aware that the U.S.-backed efforts to undermine Assad would have “bloody” consequences for civilians in Syria. These admissions dramatically undercut past and present U.S. claims to be concerned with Syrian civilians and their “call for freedom” from Assad, showing instead that the U.S. preferred the installation of a “friendly” authoritarian, sectarian government in Syria and was uninterested in the fate of Syrian civilians so long as the result “severely under[mined] Iran’s foothold in the Levant.”
For much of the last two decades, but especially since the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, the “resistance axis” — led by Iran — has emerged as the greatest threat to the hegemony of the United States and its allies in the Middle East. A power bloc composed of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas in Palestine, the “resistance axis” as a term first emerged in 2010 to describe the alliances of countries and regional political groups opposed to continued Western intervention in the region, as well as to the imperialist agendas of U.S. allies in the region like Israel and Saudi Arabia. Iran’s role as the de factoleader of this resistance bloc makes it, along with its main allies like Syria, a prime target of U.S. Middle East policy.