Juan Cole makes many assertions of truth here that probably connot be proved, or proof thereof cannot be produced. Like so many of these "regimes in turmoil' the meddling hand of the CIA and other western black ops are never seen. Yes there are legitimate grievances against al-Assad by Syrians, and not just by the holier-than-thou but we-can't-shoot-strait pufferies of higher morality (that would be our PNAC neocons and Obama belongs in that bag too when he takes the tack he has done here.)
It is pretty simple, as the current scene indicates: The Syrian regime is the last, greatest client-state of the former USSR, and the neocons in their hubris of world hegemony set their sights on it long ago. It would not matter if Assad was the second coming of Christ, "he has to go" is the official line of the US and don't you forget it. As for Putin's words, posture, and apparent intent, well of course, or just slink off into the background of second or third rate "powers". (How futile and destructive this all is.) I think Vlad the Steadfast (for his rescue of Yeltsin and his corrupt cronies) smells blood in the water.
I would like Cole to produce the absolute irrefutable proof that would be indicated by his statement that the US and its cabal of power did not create ISIS. Oooohhhh - he meant intentionally. That would still be a swing and a miss Juan.