John Kerry: Oh, by the way, the U.S. is no longer asking for regime change in Syria

After this story broke this afternoon, conservative Twitter spent an enjoyable half-hour swapping links to some of the many statements Obama’s made over the years insisting on regime change in Syria. How about this classic, from all the way back in 2011? Or how about this one from just three months ago? Better yet, how about this one from a mere four weeks ago? With the possible exception of “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan,” no Obama lie has been told more often or better captures his failures as president.

Obama wants regime change. Putin doesn’t want regime change. Regime change canceled.

“The United States and our partners are not seeking so-called regime change,” Kerry told reporters in the Russian capital after meeting President Vladimir Putin. A major international conference on Syria would take place later this week in New York, Kerry announced…

[A]fter a day of discussions with Assad’s key international backer, Kerry said the focus now is “not on our differences about what can or cannot be done immediately about Assad.” Rather, it is on facilitating a peace process in which “Syrians will be making decisions for the future of Syria.”…

Kerry said, “No one should be forced to choose between a dictator and being plagued by terrorists.” However, he described the Syrian opposition’s demand that Assad must leave as soon as peace talks begin as a “nonstarting position, obviously.”

We’re still insisting Assad must go, mind you, just … eventually:

Twitter pal David Shor made a nice catch this afternoon from this NYT story from a few days ago. Is there a difference between “regime change” and “Assad change”? Hmmmm:

The United States, for its part, wants Mr. Assad to leave power, but not necessarily to destroy his government, which would create further chaos and even more refugees and migrants — the issue that preoccupies most of the European members of NATO.

If you get rid of Assad and his cadre of Alawite cronies, there’s no one left with any experience at the top to manage post-war Syria. A coalition government of Sunnis and newly installed Alawites might not know what they’re doing — see, e.g., Libya — and could deteriorate into sectarian bickering, which will just start the war all over again. So, a compromise: Get rid of Assad, the head of the regime and the lightning rod for Sunni hatred, and see if Sunnis will tolerate (even if only temporarily) a caretaker government largely staffed by Assad veterans. Russia might be willing to accept that; they don’t care about Assad per se, just that the government in Damascus continues to make Syria hospitable to Russian bases. Iran may not be thrilled to see a reliable proxy like Assad go but keeping an Alawaite regime in place will reassure them. Iran may have less leverage than it used to, also, since Iranian troops are now reportedly leaving the battlefield. The Sunnis won’t like having Assad’s government still in charge, but having him out would be a major concession and the international powers brokering this peace deal would presumably try to further appease them by insisting on some sort of Sunni representation in the new regime or greater local control of Sunni-dominated areas.

One obvious question, though: Why make a concession now, after four years of insisting that Assad must go, if Iran’s grip on Syria is weakening and Putin is allegedly getting bogged down in the Syrian quagmire? If the Shiites and their allies are weakening, now’s the moment to double down and insist that Assad must go ASAP even if “the regime” writ large remains in place for awhile.

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