A Small Bit Of Justice For Iraqis

Four former Blackwater security contractors were found guilty yesterday in the infamous 2007 Nisour Square massacre, during which they shot 14 Iraqi civilians to death and injured 17 others:

In an overwhelming victory for prosecutors, a jury found Nicholas Slatten guilty of first-degree murder. The three other three guards — Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard — were found guilty of multiple counts of voluntary manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and gun charges. The four men had been charged with a combined 33 counts in the shootings and the jury was able to reach a verdict on all of them, with the exception of three charges against Heard. The prosecution agreed to drop those charges.

Max Boot approves, calling the verdict “a step forward in holding contractors accountable for their conduct on the battlefield, but only a small step”:

After all, it took seven years to conclude this case–not that it’s concluded now since the defendants are likely to appeal. That is hardly the definition of expeditious justice.

But it’s more than prosecutors have been able to accomplish in the past since only eight other individuals have been charged under statutes designed to hold contractors accountable for their battlefield conduct. There is an imperative to do better because as the U.S. military continues its unfortunate downsizing it will have to remain reliant in the future on contractors–but their actions can detract from mission objectives if they alienate locals in the process of delivering goods or dignitaries from Point A to Point B.

But in Jeremy Scahill’s opinion, it doesn’t deliver much justice, considering that Blackwater’s founder Erik Prince is unlikely to ever face consequences for his organization’s record of abuse:

Just as with the systematic torture at Abu Ghraib, it is only the low level foot-soldiers of Blackwater that are being held accountable. Prince and other top Blackwater executives continue to reap profits from the mercenary and private intelligence industries. Prince now has a new company, Frontier Services Group, which he founded with substantial investment from Chinese enterprises and which focuses on opportunities in Africa. Prince recently suggested that his forces at Blackwater could have confronted Ebola and ISIS. “If the administration cannot rally the political nerve or funding to send adequate active duty ground forces to answer the call, let the private sector finish the job,” he wrote.

Nicholas Slatten now faces a sentence of up to life in prison, while the other three are looking at decades behind bars. The families of their victims, however, prefer execution.

Map Of The Day

Car_bombings_Screen_Shot_2014-10-17_at_3.37.19_PM.0

Amanda Taub highlights the work data journos at The Guardian have been doing with Wikileaks’ Iraq War logs. Each red dot on the above map – the screenshot seen above only shows one corner of Baghdad, but the project covers the whole country – represents one of some 60,000 combat-related fatal incidents (mostly IEDs) between 2004 and 2009, representing more than 100,000 deaths. And that’s not even the whole story, as Taub points out:

[T]he true extent of the violence is much worse: the map likely only shows a small fraction of the attacks from that period. The database the map is drawn from does not include deaths from criminal activity, or those that were initiated by Coalition or Iraqi forces. And many deaths may not have been officially tallied. That means that the real total is almost certainly much higher. But even seeing the number of attacks recorded here shows how devastating this war has been to Baghdad’s civilians, who must now face even more attacks.

Kobani: A Battle In Multiples Wars

Screen Shot 2014-10-21 at 11.41.05 AM

Despite recent gains by Kurdish fighters in and around Kobani, aided by the delivery of small arms and other supplies yesterday, Kiran Nazish reports that the situation in the area remains tenuous:

Firas Kharaba, the leader of a Kurdish group, has been coordinating and managing the return of many wounded fighters from Kobani into Turkey. With the help of spies that, he says, infiltrated ISIS, “we found the power hub. … After the U.S. hit that building, they [ISIS] suffered a full blow.” More than 30 top fighters and commanders were killed, he said. Recently the Islamic State has been bringing in new fighters, but many of themaccording to Firas’s sourcesare not professionally trained fighters, but mere managers, organizers, and account keepers, with little experience in the battle field.

The main concern for YPG fighters now, is their on-the-ground force. What they need even more than manpower, says Kobani government official Idris Nassan, are “weapons on the ground.”

U.S. intelligence has assisted them, says Nassan, but it is not a substitute for weaponry and ammunition. Despite this weekend’s air drop, “the coalition is not ready to send weapons on the ground,” says Tarek Doglu, a foreign affairs analyst based in Ankara. “No one wants to intervene the matters between Turkey and PKK. That is the basic complexity.”

Dettmer talks to some of the town’s few remaining doctors, who paint a harrowing picture of the humanitarian conditions:

Dr. Kurdo Abdi, gave me a first-hand account of the extraordinary demands that have been placed on the 15 doctors and nurses who remained in Kobani throughout the siege. They have struggled to provide rudimentary care for wounded fighters and civilians while dodging bombs, rockets and bullets. “The main hospital was destroyed ten days ago by rockets,” says Abdi. The ISIS militants bombed the hospital on purpose. “Since then we have been treating people in makeshift clinics in different parts of Kobani, mainly in apartments. We have very little medicines. We got a few re-supplies from some fighters and civilians who smuggled it across the border, but very little. The situation is very bad.”

ISIS’s recent retreat, he adds, has been oversold in the press:

Despite widespread media reports that the Islamic militants have left the town and are now just on the outskirts, that is not accurate. Both doctors say the jihadists have been pushed back on the West of the town but they are still inside parts of the center and that there is street fighting in the east and south.

Yusuf Sayman defends Turkey’s actions, pointing to its massive refugee relief effort, and laments that “refugees running from the war in Syria are stuck in the political war in Turkey”, between the government and Kurdish activists:

While the Turkish government wants to play the good guys by helping the refugees, the opposition — including the HDP, Turkey’s pro-Kurdish party — refuses to allow them to reap the political benefits of this goodwill gesture. Some refugees now stay in camps run by the office of Suruc’s mayor, who is from the HDP, which act as a sort of Kurdish counterpoint to the camps run by AFAD [the Turkish government’s humanitarian relief agency].

Thus, the refugees find themselves on the front line in a propaganda battle. Hazal, a 24-year-old activist from Kobani volunteering as a health worker, speaks negatively about life in the HDP camps: She says their sanitary conditions are very bad, water-borne illnesses are widespread, and there is constant YPG propaganda. People are forced to refer to each other as “heval,” or comrade — a term used by both PKK and YPG fighters. She even recalls a YPG member telling her, “If you visit your relatives staying in the AFAD camp, we will consider you a traitor.”

Intra-Kurdish politics, Hannes Cerny observes, add another dimension of complexity:

[President of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government Massoud] Barzani is playing a long game, as he benefited for years from his status as the main Kurdish leader that the West could do business with. Dialogue now between the U.S. and the PYD/YPG threatens his position; the YPG could even become as indispensable in the war against IS in Syria as Barzani’s peshmerga are in Iraq. Furthermore, if the PYD holds off IS in Kobani and becomes the West’s new Syria partner in the process, it would strengthen the form of local autonomy that the PYD has been exercising in northeastern Syria over the past two years. This political model, an anarchist communalism of Kurdish confederations, poses a direct ideological challenge to the KRG.

(Image: a UN satellite photo shows details of the street fights between Islamic State militants and Kurdish fighters in Kobani. Via Rick Noack.)

Kobani: ISIS’s Stalingrad?

Syrian Kurds Battle IS To Retain Control Of Kobani

Last night, American military transport planes delivered weapons, ammunition, and medical supplies to the Kurdish fighters still holding the northern Syrian border town of Kobani against a lengthy siege by ISIS militants:

The supplies were not provided by the U.S., but instead came from other Kurdish forces outside of Kobani, the official told FP. U.S. aircraft merely facilitated the airdrops. American warplanes have been bombing Islamic State targets in and around the city for weeks, but the airdrops escalate that effort and mean that the U.S. is now facilitating direct assistance to the Kurdish fighters defending the city.

The defenders of Kobani welcomed the aid but warned that it would not be enough to decide the battle. Much still depends on how much help Turkey will allow across its border. Obama reportedly gave Erdogan advance notice of the drop on Saturday night, but Juan Cole interprets it as defiant of the Turks’ wishes. Since then, Ankara has been sending its usual mixed signals:

In comments published by Turkish media on Monday, [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan equated the main Syrian Kurdish group, the PYD, with the PKK. “It is also a terrorist organization.

It will be very wrong for America with whom we are allied and who we are together with in NATO to expect us to say ‘yes’ (to supporting the PYD) after openly announcing such support for a terrorist organization,” Erdogan said. Also on Monday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Turkey was facilitating the passage of Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters to Kobani to aid Syrian Kurds defending the town against Islamic State militants. Cavusoglu, speaking at a news conference, did not provide details on the transfer of the fighters.

Looking at the big picture, Henri Barkey considers the battle of Kobani a seminal moment in the national history of the Kurds:

Kobani will have two different effects on the region. First and foremost, it will be an important marker in the construction and consolidation of Kurdish nationhood. The exploits of Kobani’s defenders are quickly joining the lore of Kurdish fighting prowess. After all, the Iraqi Kurdish forces, not to mention the Iraqi army, folded in the face of a determined IS onslaught only a couple of months ago. The longer the city resists, the greater will be the reputational impact (although it is already assuming mythic proportions).

There is another, rather unique aspect of the resistance that is adding to its mythic character: the role of women in the fight. The juxtaposition of an Islamic State, which enslaves women or covers them from head to toe, with the Syrian Kurds’ Democratic Union Party (PYD), which has large numbers of women fighting and dying alongside men, is particularly striking. Social and other media outlets have brimmed with stories of the heroism and sacrifice of these women. The fighting in Kobani, and especially the emergence of women fighters, has now entered the Kurdish lore and imagination.

Paul Iddon also grasps the battle’s symbolic significance. He hopes it will prove to be the Islamic State’s Stalingrad:

The reason I stress the symbolic importance of this is because as was the case during the Battle of Stalingrad the name was of great significance to the invading Third Reich whose ruler saw destroying that city and killing all of those who resisted to be of great symbolic and psychological importance given the fact it was named after the dictator of the country they were attempting to conquer. Kobani for similar reasons has become a symbol of Kurdish defiance to IS and is the reason that group is pouring more resources into in order to try and break that towns spirit and the Syrian Kurds ability to resist and repel its advances. And like Stalingrad the locals there have shown they will fight building-to-building to the death before they let IS overrun their town.

(Photo: Heavy smoke from an airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition planes rises in Kobani, Syria, October 20, 2014 as seen from a hilltop on the outskirts of Suruc, at the Turkey-Syria border, in Sanliurfa province, Turkey. By Gokhan Sahin/Getty Images)

The Plight Of The Yazidis Still Isn’t Over

George Packer checks in with his Yazidi contact “Karim” in northern Iraq, who reports that his community remains on the brink of a humanitarian disaster two months after a much-heralded rescue effort:

Yesterday, I spoke on the phone with Karim. He’s still at the top of Mt. Sinjar, living in a military camp with around a hundred fighters, the majority of them Kurdish, the rest Yazidis. They sleep in United Nations tents and eat canned food brought in by humanitarian airdrops. There is no real way out except by airlift—in the past ten or twelve days, according to Karim, ISIS has pushed Yazidi fighters out of villages north and west of Mt. Sinjar, and they now surround the mountain. Karim told me that there are still about a thousand civilians around the mountain, also living in tents. The humanitarian airdrops are not enough, food is running low, and the past few nights have been cold with the approach of winter. The Yazidi resistance fighters want an international ground force to liberate Sinjar—something that they are unlikely to get.

A few hours before we spoke, Karim said, five Yazidi girls arrived at the mountaintop camp. The youngest was nine, the oldest twenty. They had walked several dozen miles from their town to the south of the mountain. They carried nothing with them and were barefoot. The girls said that they had been held prisoner for weeks by ISIS fighters, and were badly beaten, according to Karim. Other Yazidi girls and women have been distributed in slave markets to ISIS fighters, and when I asked Karim if the girls had also been raped, he told me, “I couldn’t bear to ask that question, to be honest.”

Ralf Hoppe interviews a Yazidi woman who was kidnapped by ISIS but managed to escape after nine days in captivity:

Their captors beat them, sometimes several times in a single day, for no apparent reason. There was a man with a beard who used an electric cable, while two others preferred wooden switches. Sometimes they were also punched and kicked, and they were repeatedly sexually abused.

Nadia doesn’t give a literal account of these rapes. It is virtually impossible for her to talk about them, and it contravenes the conventions of her culture. She merely says: “We were taken individually to another room, to one of the men.” Then she lowers her head, in silence, awash with shame. “What else could we do?” she says after a while, now speaking very quietly. She says the men were merciless. Some women threw themselves at their tormentors’ feet, kissed their knees and hands, and — eyes filled with tears — pleaded for mercy. It was no use. The men remained unmoved. It only entertained them.

The jihadists are claiming a theological justification for enslaving the Yazidis in their English-language propaganda newsletter Dabiq:

The Islamic State newsletter, released online at the weekend, also contains an article by John Cantlie, a British journalist being held hostage, in which he says he fears he will soon be killed like his four fellow hostages, James Foley, Steven Sotloff, David Haines and Alan Henning. But most of it is devoted to theological justifications for Islamic State behaviour, citing early clerics and the practices of the Prophet Mohammed and his Companions during the early years of Islamic expansion.

“The enslaved Yazidi families are now sold by the Islamic State soldiers as the mushrikin were sold by the Companions before them,” the article, entitled “The Revival of Slavery before the Hour”, says. It says that “well-known” rules are observed, including not separating mothers from their children – something which may account for the number of teenage girls being used in this way, according to their families. It says that 20 per cent of women are being taken in this way, in accordance with rules demanding a fifth of property captured in war to be handed over as tax.

Will ISIS March On Baghdad?

iKdqgfdYrWhI

Recent gains by ISIS in western Iraq’s Anbar province, including the capture of a military base on Monday, are raising fears that the militants might soon attempt to move on Baghdad:

Militants seized the base, located near the town of Hit and a major highway from Baghdad to the Syrian border, after heavy fighting with soldiers, according to Ahmed al-Dulaimi, a Sunni tribal leader. Its capture increases the threat to Ramadi, Anbar’s capital, and to Iraq’s second-largest dam at Haditha. …

Islamic State captured the Anbar towns of Hit and Kubaisa last week, and its fighters are battling Iraqi forces in Abu Ghraib, 18 miles (29 kilometers) from Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone that houses embassies and government offices. The town of Haditha is “completely besieged” by Islamic State militants and will fall within days without U.S. action to prevent it, Faleh al-Issawi, the deputy head of Anbar provincial council, said by phone late yesterday. He said the jihadists control 80 percent of Anbar province.

Joel Wing attributes these advances primarily to the weakness of the Iraqi Security Forces:

The fact that the ISF still appear hapless in most areas does not bode well for the future. They have broken again and again in just a few days. Both Baghdad and the American led coalition need to intervene in a much more determined fashion to reverse the situation, because even if places like Ramadi and Haditha are able to hold on they are cut off from their supply lines and need to be supplied by air something the government forces are not good at. If not there could be more bad news coming out of western Iraq very soon.

In Walter Russell Mead’s view, there is “a lot to be nervous about”:

CBS News cites a figure of 60,000 Iraqi troops assigned to defend Baghdad, but given the rampant corruption in the Iraqi armed forces, the official numbers on paper are one of the least important facts about the defending forces. As Haaretz noted in June, a large portion of the Iraqi army is made up of “ghost soldiers” who appear in the official troop count but pay their commanders a portion of their salary in return for being excused from duty. Graft has always been rampant in the post-Ba’athi Iraqi military, with officers stealing not only money and equipment, but even reportedly food and water from their soldiers during ISIS’ June blitz. These factors, while perhaps attenuated, are still very much at play today. And the chances for turning things around look ever-more remote.

Even if the jihadists can’t take and hold the capital, Paul Shinkman argues that they can still do enough damage to seriously undermine the government’s authority:

Defense officials and analysts agree the Islamic State group likely could not seize and maintain control of Iraq’s capital city. Chiefly, militias within the Shiite Muslim neighborhoods in the east would resist the Sunni extremists’ onslaught and reject their attempts to recruit moderate citizens to their cause. There are, however, measures of extremist success other than all-out capture. It’s no coincidence that the Islamic State group has approached Baghdad from the west, taking control of most of Anbar province, including territory near the capital city that flows into western neighborhoods mostly populated by fellow Sunnis.

Any doubts among locals that their government would not be able to protect them feeds directly into the formula the Islamic State group has used with great success to seize control of large cities like Fallujah in Iraq or parts of towns like Kobani near the Turkish border in Syria. “For them, nothing succeeds like success. They’re on a roll and they’re not really being impeded,” says Bruce Hoffman, a former adviser to coalition forces during the Iraq War and counterterrorism scholar at the CIA. He now teaches at Georgetown University. “At this stage, it’s whoever can provide security.”

But Michael Knights interprets the push toward Baghdad as a Hail Mary pass of sorts:

In truth, the threat posed to Baghdad this autumn is emerging less because ISIL is winning the war in Iraq and more because it might be slowly but steadily losing it. All across north-central Iraq, ISIL is being challenged by joint forces comprised of Sunni tribes, Shia militias, Iraqi soldiers, Iranian advisors and U.S. airpower. ISIL is struggling to maintain its grip on this battlefield of strange bedfellows, and it could be moving on Baghdad now out of a desperate need for a big victory more than anything else. Even as ISIL appears to be making progress in marginal places like Kobane, the Syrian Kurdish border town, inside Iraq the group has been faltering and needs a new front to rejuvenate its campaign.

Among the less-noted victories against ISIL recently: In early October, Kurdish peshmerga forces and local Sunni tribesmen of the Shammar confederation – usually bitter rivals – cooperated in a three-day blitzkrieg that recaptured the vital Rabiya border crossing that links the ISIL territories in Iraq and Syria. In Dhuluiya, 45 miles north of Baghdad, Sunni tribesmen of the Jabouri confederation are pushing ISIL back from their lands in collaboration with both Iraqi Army forces and, stunningly, Iranian-backed Shia militiamen from the Kataib Hezbollah movement.

Don’t get too excited about any victories by the Shia militias, however. Justine Drennan flags an Amnesty International report that accuses these militias of carrying out revenge attacks on Sunni civilians:

The report, released on Tuesday, alleges that since the self-proclaimed Islamic State started grabbing territory in Iraq, Shiite militias supported by the Iraqi government have abducted and shot dozens of Sunni civilians, apparently in retaliation for the Sunni extremist group’s attacks on Shiites. Many of the Sunnis being killed have no apparent connection to the Islamic State, and just seem to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, the report says.

“Scores of unidentified bodies have been discovered across the country handcuffed and with gunshot wounds to the head, indicating a pattern of deliberate execution-style killings,” the international human rights group stated on Tuesday. The group’s report is based on six weeks of interviews with victims, observers, and government officials in central and northern Iraq between August and September.

The Syrian-Turkish-Kurdish Clusterfuck

Turkey launched airstrikes yesterday – not against ISIS, but against Kurdish insurgents in southeast Turkey:

Turkish news reports said the strikes had been aimed at fighters of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, known as the P.K.K., and were in retaliation for the shelling of a Turkish military base. Such airstrikes were once common, as Turkey fought a Kurdish insurgency in a conflict that claimed almost 40,000 lives over nearly three decades. But hostilities essentially ceased two years ago when the peace process began, and both the Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah and an online statement from the P.K.K. said the airstrikes on Monday were the first since then. The Turkish military also released a statement, but it did not mention airstrikes specifically, only an exchange of fire with “terrorists.”

Authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan are now pressing Ankara to let their fellow Kurds cross the border to help defend the Syrian town of Kobani, which remains under siege from ISIS:

Speaking on a visit to RFE/RL in Prague on October 13, Falah Mustafa, the foreign minister of the Kurdish regional government (KRG), said Ankara should heed calls from the international community to help the city, which has been under siege for almost four weeks.

“It’s a moral responsibility for all of us to move in order to help the besieged [city of] Kobani,” Mustafa said. “We hope that there would be an understanding by Turkey to the calls from the international community and to the needs of these people who have proven to be bravely fighting the terrorists throughout this period, from the day they have been besieged.” He said Ankara should establish a corridor between its border checkpoint of Mursitpinar and Kobani, whose northern edge is less than a kilometer from the Turkish frontier.

Today and yesterday, ISIS positions in Kobani and elsewhere in Syria came under heavy attack from US planes:

Centcom said the 21 strikes in and around Kobani destroyed two of the group’s staging locations and damaged another, destroyed one an ISIS-held building and damaged two others, damaged three ISIS-held compounds, destroyed one ISIS truck, and destroyed one ISIS armed vehicle and another ISIS vehicle. The US military also struck an additional seven ISIS staging areas, two ISIS mortar positions, three ISIS occupied buildings, and an ISIS artillery storage facility. Centcom said early indications were that these strikes were “successful.” Separately, the US military conducted an additional strike on an ISIS-held oil refinery near Dayr az Zawr. Centcom said this strike was also successful.

But the jihadists are apparently making gains in Iraq:

“The militants, they now control 80% of Anbar province,” said Faleh al-Issawi, a local politician from Anbar, detailing weeks of miserable performance on behalf of the Iraqi military. Government forces, he says, are constantly on the back foot, rarely launching offensives to regain territory. Outgunned and beleaguered, he says, Iraqi army units in Anbar are beginning to collapse. “We are renewing our call for American or International troops to come to Anbar province and begin ground operations,” he said, expressing a policy desire completely at odds with that of the central government.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is claiming that Turkey has agreed to allow US warplanes carry out strikes from its bases, but Turkish officials won’t confirm that:

[National Security Advisor Susan] Rice said Ankara had joined Saudi Arabia in agreeing to allow its bases for training moderate Syrian opposition forces and had agreed that “facilities inside Turkey can be used by the coalition forces, American and otherwise, to engage in activities inside of Iraq and Syria.” Incirlik Air Base, located about 50 kilometers inland from the Mediterranean Sea in southern Turkey, is home to the U.S. Air Force’s 39th Air Base Wing and about 1,500 American military personnel and is key to protecting NATO’s southern flank.

On Monday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu denied there was such an agreement on bases, according to state-run Anadolu Agency. “There is no decision at the moment concerning Incirlik or any other issue,” the agency quoted Cavusoglu as saying[.]

Meanwhile, Jamie Dettmer is dismayed at the anti-Western rhetoric Turkish President Erdogan whipped out in a speech yesterday:

About T.E. Lawrence—who is still viewed as a hero in the West and by many Arabs—the Turkish President showed nothing but disdain, then used Lawrence as a vehicle to heap opprobrium on others. Erdoğan dismissed the British officer as “an English spy disguised as an Arab.” And he told the university audience—the speech was televised—that Westerners are “making Sykes-Picot agreements hiding behind freedom of press, a war of independence or jihad.”

Erdoğan argued there are modern-day Lawrences in Turkey right now “disguised as journalists, religious men, writers and terrorists.” And the remark was especially ominous on the day five foreign journalists—three of them German—were hauled before a court for a preliminary hearing in the southeastern Turkey of Diyarbakır, following their arrests at the weekend by anti-terrorist police.

Marc Champion believes Erdogan has miscalculated:

Erdogan appears to believe he can squeeze the PKK and its affiliate in Syria, while negotiating a settlement with Turkey’s Kurdish community. If so, he would be underestimating how quickly a massacre in Kobani could push events beyond his control. Erdogan is a formidable politician and never to be underestimated, yet I suspect he is making a big mistake for Turkey.

That’s because only one of the two very risky paths for Erdogan has a chance of a positive outcome. The Turkish leader has a real prospect of building a long-term alliance with the Kurds and creating a stable buffer against the chaos of the Middle East, partly because he has already done a lot to repair relations with Kurds in Iraq and Turkey in recent years. Islamic State, however, can offer nothing but instability and fear.

Michael Crowley returns to our other big problem in Syria – Assad, with whom Erdogan and the Syrian rebels would like us to go to war as well:

Obama may find it increasingly difficult to battle ISIS without coming into conflict with Assad’s forces. “Sooner or later the linkage is going to be forced,” said Paul Salem, vice president of the Middle East Institute. Salem wonders how Obama would react if American-trained rebels come under aerial bombardment by Assad’s air force: Would U.S. forces pounding ISIS targets elsewhere in the country refuse to intervene? (That would hardly inspire goodwill among the rebels.) How should the U.S. respond [if] Assad’s forces move to claim territory cleared by ISIS after coalition attacks? And will Obama tolerate Assad’s infamously brutal attacks on civilian populations now that U.S. fighter-bombers are mere minutes away from the scene of such crimes?

Larison sure hopes we don’t take the bait:

It is unreasonable to expect anti-regime forces to do Washington’s bidding against other enemies of the regime when their overriding concern is to fight regime forces. However, that isn’t an argument for doing what the rebels want. It draws our attention back to why the war has been misguided and unlikely to succeed from the start, especially once it expanded into Syria. If both Turkey and the “moderate” opposition refuse to cooperate unless the U.S. attacks the Syrian government, that tells us that the war against ISIS cannot be fought effectively at an acceptable cost. That should be a clear warning to the administration to stop now before it gets in any deeper. Warring against both sides in the same civil war not only appears absurd, but it greatly increases the chances of costly failure.

Max Fisher, on the other hand, asserts that an alliance with Assad is the only logical outcome of Obama’s Syria policy:

Obama doesn’t want to build up the rebels enough to defeat ISIS, he doesn’t want to invade and occupy Syria (rightly), and he doesn’t trust Turkey enough to sponsor a Turkish invasion. With those options off the table, only Assad is left as someone who is able to re-conquer ISIS-held territory and occupy it for many years, which is what it would take to end the ISIS threat. So it looks increasingly likely that Obama will come to view Assad as his only real option if he wants to defeat ISIS.