by Dish Staff
Fred Hof points out that an American air campaign against ISIS in Syria would serve Bashar al-Assad’s material and propaganda interests whether or not we officially declare a partnership with him. He worries that we are walking into a trap:
How to avoid the ambush? Demonstrate real hostility toward Assad, whose removal for the sake of neutralizing ISIS is even more justified than the ouster of Iraq’s Nouri Al Maliki. If, in the course of U.S. anti-ISIS air operations over Syria, regime air defense radars lock onto U.S. aircraft, the relevant air defense site or sites should be engaged decisively. Robust and timely aid for Syrian nationalist rebels fighting both the regime and ISIS is a must. Relevant security assistance for a Syrian National Coalition trying to set up an alternate governing structure in non-Assad, non-ISIS Syria is mandatory. Building an all-Syrian national stabilization force in Turkey and Jordan for eventual anti-regime and anti-ISIS peace-enforcement is essential. American leadership in creating mechanisms that can one day bring Bashar Al Assad and his principal enforcers to trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity is vital. These are the steps that can put the lie to Assad’s libel.
Larison has another idea: don’t start the war at all:
Fighting wars of choice is bad enough, but it is simply perverse to insist on making deals with ugly regimes in order to facilitate the war of choice. If the most effective way of fighting ISIS requires the U.S. to go to war in Syria in concert with the Syrian government, that is just one more argument against waging a war on ISIS in the first place. The supposed need to ally with such a horrible government against ISIS depends entirely on grossly exaggerating the threat that the group poses to the U.S. and its allies. The one error flows from the other, and if put into practice would produce an indefensible policy.
And Assad might not be much help in the fight against ISIS even if he wants to be, Zack Beauchamp adds:
Here’s a big problem with the help-Assad case: it’s not clear that he’s actually strong enough to take on ISIS. Around August 19th, ISIS launched an offensive targeted at the government-held Tabqa airbase, in north-central Syria. Assad fought hard to keep the base, directing punishing airstrikes and ground forces at ISIS. On August 24th, ISIS took Tabqa anyway. The fact that Assad is already using airpower against ISIS, and failing, makes it hard to imagine that supplementing the Assad campaign with some US air strikes would be enough to push back ISIS. The US Air Force is obviously orders of magnitude more capable than its Syrian counterpart, but airpower can’t take and hold territory on its own. It needs to be done by competent ground troops. Assad simply doesn’t have the ground forces to spare, given that he’s also fighting other Islamists and moderate rebels around the country.
Mark Kleiman muses on how he might eventually be ousted:
Assad is a mass murderer, by character and by heredity. Maybe if the rest of the Syrian security forces and political players were scared enough, they’d take a polite hint from the U.S. and kick Assad out in order to qualify for assistance; providing a little bit of intelligence in the meantime is one way of giving that hint. But I wouldn’t count on it. No, if Assad is going to go, he probably has to be kicked out the same way Maliki was, by losing the support of his key foreign sponsor. That would be our old friend Volodya. Does Russia really want to see an actual Islamist state willing and able to help support the Chechen rebels? Maybe not. Whether, suitably supported, the new Iraqi and Syrian governments could actually get their act together and squash ISIS remains to be seen. But getting rid of the Thief of Baghdad and and the Butcher of Damascus in one summer wouldn’t be a bad score all by itself.
To Greenwald, the fact that we are talking about this at all is a sign of the times:
It seems pretty clear at this point that U.S. military action in the Middle East is the end in itself, and the particular form it takes – even including the side for which the U.S. fights – is an ancillary consideration. That’s how the U.S., in less than a year, can get away with depicting involvement in the war in Syria – on opposite sides – as a national imperative. Ironically, just as was true of Al Qaeda, provoking the U.S. into military action would, for the reasons Fishman explained, help ISIS as well. But the only clear lesson from all of this is that no matter the propagandistic script used, U.S. military action in that region virtually never fulfills the stated goals (nor is it intended to do so), and achieves little other than justifying endless military action for its own sake.