Before the war started, according to Hersh, Assad was moving to liberalize the country—“They had internet and newspapers and ATM machines and Assad wanted to move toward the west. After 9/11, he gave thousands of invaluable files to the CIA on Jihadist radicals, who he considered a mutual enemy."
Assad's regime was deliberately secular and Syria was impressively diverse. The Syrian government and military, for example, were 80 percent Sunni. Assad maintained peace among his diverse peoples by a strong disciplined army loyal to the Assad family, an allegiance secured by a nationally esteemed and highly paid officer corps, a coldly efficient intelligence apparatus and a penchant for brutality which, prior to the war, was rather moderate compared to other Mideast leaders, including our current allies.
According to Hersh, “He certainly wasn't beheading people every Wednesday like the Saudis do in Mecca." Another veteran journalist, Bob Parry, echoes that assessment. “No one in the region has clean hands but in the realms of torture, mass killings, civil liberties and supporting terrorism, Assad is much better than the Saudis."
No one believed that the regime was vulnerable to the anarchy that had riven Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia. By the spring of 2011, there were small, peaceful demonstrations in Damascus against repression by Assad's regime. These were mainly the effluvia of the Arab Spring which spread virally across the Arab League states the previous summer. However, Huffington Post UK reported that in Syria the protests were, at least in part, orchestrated by the CIA. WikiLeaks cables indicate that the CIA was already on the ground in Syria.
But the Sunni Kingdoms wanted a much deeper involvement from America. On Sept. 4, 2013, Secretary of State John Kerry told a congressional hearing that the Sunni kingdoms had offered to foot the bill for a US. invasion of Syria to oust Bashar al-Assad. “In fact, some of them have said that if the United States is prepared to go do the whole thing, the way we've done it previously in other places [Iraq], they'll carry the cost," he stated. Kerry reiterated the offer to Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL27): “With respect to Arab countries offering to bear the costs of [an American invasion] to topple Assad, the answer is profoundly Yes, they have. The offer is on the table."
Despite pressure from Republicans, Barrack Obama balked at hiring out young Americans to die as mercenaries for a pipeline conglomerate. Obama wisely ignored Republican clamoring to put ground troops in Syria or to funnel more funding to “moderate insurgents." But by late 2011, Republican pressure and our Sunni allies had pushed the American government into the fray.
In 2011, the U.S. joined France, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and England to form the “Friends of Syria Coalition," which formally demanded the removal of Assad. The CIA provided $6 million to Barada, a British T.V. channel, to produce pieces entreating Assad's ouster. Saudi intelligence documents, published by WikiLeaks, show that by 2012, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia were arming, training and funding radical Jihadist Sunni fighters from Syria, Iraq and elsewhere to overthrow the Assad's Shia allied regime. Qatar, which had the most to gain, invested $3 billion in building the insurgency and invited the Pentagon to train insurgents at U.S. bases in Qatar. U.S. personnel also provided logistical support and intelligence to the rebels on the ground. The Times of London reported on Sept. 14, 2012, that the CIA also armed Jihadists with anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles and other weapons from Libyan armories that the agency smuggled by ratlines to Syria via Turkey. According to an April 2014 article by Seymour Hersh, the CIA weapons ratlines were financed by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
The idea of fomenting a Sunni-Shia civil war to weaken the Syrian and Iranian regimes so as to maintain control of the region's petro-chemical supplies was not a novel notion in the Pentagon's lexicon. A damning 2008 Pentagon funded Rand report proposed a precise blueprint for what was about to happen. That report observes that control of the Persian Gulf oil and gas deposits will remain, for the U.S., “a strategic priority" that “will interact strongly with that of prosecuting the long war."