For years, the Obama administration held secret back-channel talks with members of the Syrian regime in the hope of unseating Bashar al-Assad, US and Arab officials tell the Wall Street Journal. The communication came in bursts—sometimes with senior Syrian officials, other times through intermediaries including Russia and Iran. In 2011, officials identified officers who could possibly lead a military coup, they say. "The White House's policy in 2011 was to get to the point of a transition in Syria by finding cracks in the regime and offering incentives for people to abandon Assad," a former official says. But, as the Journal puts it, "regime cohesiveness held, and the crackdown continued"; by summer 2012, that regime-change effort was acknowledged as a failure.
And how. The Journal's take: "Instead of persuading Mr. Assad to exit, the covert communications may have fed his sense of legitimacy and impunity." At BloombergView, Josh Rogin sees a shift in the US stance on Assad. As the Journal points out, the US line has consistently been that Assad must step down. "The Obama administration has been slowly altering" that, writes Rogin. Indeed, last week the US put its support behind a UN Security Council resolution "that would establish an 18-month transition process during which Assad could stay as Syria's president and even run for elections sometime in 2017." Read Rogin's full column here. (Read more Bashar al-Assad stories.)