Throughout 2012, numerous American factions were pushing for U.S. intervention in Syria to bring down the regime of Bashar Assad, who throughout the War on Terror had helped the U.S. in all sorts of ways, including torturing people for them. But by then, Assad was viewed mostly as an ally of Iran, and deposing him would weaken Tehran, the overarching regional strategy of the U.S. and its allies. The prevailing narrative was thus created that those fighting against Assad were "moderate" and even pro-Western groups, with the leading one dubbed "the Free Syrian Army."
Whether to intervene in Syria in alliance with or on behalf of the "Free Syrian Army" was a major debate in the West through the end of that year. Then-Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry was openly discussing ways for the U.S. to aid the rebels to bring about regime change. Sen. Joe Lieberman was saying: "I hope the international community and the U.S. will provide assistance to the Syrian Free Army in the various ways we can." Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while ruling out direct military intervention, said: "[W]e have to redouble our efforts outside of the United Nations with those allies and partners who support the Syrian people's right to have a better future."
A U.N. resolution calling for Assad to step down was supported by NATO states but vetoed by China and Russia, who were concerned that it would be depicted as a "regime change" endorsement to justify Western military intervention. By the following year, John Kerry, by then Obama's secretary of state, was arguing that direct U.S. military action in Syria against Assad -- a full-scale bombing campaign -- was a moral and strategic imperative.
As it turns out, the "moderate" "Free Syrian Army" was largely a myth. By far, the most effective fighting forces against Assad were anything but "moderate," composed instead of various Al Qaeda manifestations and even more extreme elements. After the U.S. and its Gulf allies funded and armed those groups for a while, the U.S. did ultimately go to war in Syria, but more in alliance with Assad than against him.