The old Soviets had a classification for different types of wars:
“Many of these—such as the categorization of wars in ideological terms (including wars between imperialism and socialism, civil wars between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, wars between bourgeois states, national liberation wars)—now appear quaint and irrelevant for understanding today’s (and perhaps even yesterday’s) world.”
There was one other: wars between the people and a regime of extreme reaction
“What they understood about these conflicts between a dictatorial regime and its opponents was that they were not conflicts between two parties, but among three”
“In wars between the people and a regime of extreme reaction…both communists and non-communists united to fight the dictatorship, with each group hoping later to establish its preferred form of government (dictatorship of the proletariat or republican democracy).
In these conflicts, once the dictator was overthrown, the Soviets knew they eventually had the upper hand because their supported group had outside support, whereas the moderates would be (abandoned by the United States who had been propping up the dictator) forced to fend for themselves. With all factors being equal, the extra force could make a minority within the initial revolt, grab power after all was done.
Back then, it was America supporting the regimes of extreme reaction; the Soviets were seen the revolutionaries. Today it is Russia and Iran, who support these dictatorial regimes, and moderates and a few islamists who are those engaged in making change.
The lesson taught was that once Assad falls, without America’s strong continued support of the moderates, the otherwise strong support of Saudi’s Sunnis behind the Islamists will tip the balance to their favor. For as in the past, when moderates took on an American supported regime of extreme reaction, and the communists joined in the fight, it became viewed as part of the bipolar tug of war between the Communists and Capitalistic USA. Therefore even though the moderates usually far outnumbered the splinter cells of Communists, because the ending conflict was deemed a Soviet victory over the US, the communists had tremendous clout and enough support to take over power.
This certainly makes Syria clear. In their battle against Assad, the Islamists supported by the Radical Sunni movements are few in number compared to the moderates who want a democratic republic after Assad leaves.
If Assad gets pushed out, the Islamists because of their unlimited funding and support can push themselves into power quickly, meanwhile the moderates sit around and try to figure out their next step. In that vacuum the organized faction always wins. The US then as now, could prevent this from happening by throwing its weight behind the moderates after the dictator is removed by being a counterbalancing force.
Our success in Western Europe after the Second World War by doing just that, never translated itself afterwards over to East Asia, Africa, or Central America. Instead of immediately inserting ourselves as a civilian presence when moderates and radicals toppled a regime, we sat on our hands, and only later would then send military hardware in our feeble attempt to contain the outbreak our own inaction created.
The lesson for the US is that we really need to not focus so much first on the war itself and then immediately extricate ourselves after the conflict when we are needed most, but we actually we need to use our debacle in Iraq as a self-taught lesson to create a civilian team we can move in at a moment’s notice with all the backing and assistance exhibited by the Marshall Plan, to quickly mend broken services, return to normalcy, and stifle the unrest that allows civil wars to fester and continue among both factions of winners long after the regime of extreme reaction is overthrown.
We need to focus on reacting immediately with ways to get a nation quickly back on its own feet as soon as the Dictator is disposed.
Our opponents of 40 years ago figured this out. If we can learn this, that may be the most valuable legacy the Brezhnev era can ever pass on to us.