2013’s old and busted was Bashar al-Assad being a “reformer,” and the new hotness that August was that Assad was a monster that the US needed to bomb after using WMD on his own people. Skip forward eleven months and the field may reverse itself. Josh Rogin reports for The Daily Beast that the Obama administration may ally with Assad as a way to slow down or stop ISIS. That would be a remarkable shift for a White House that has spent the last three years looking for ways to bolster the rebellion fighting the Assad regime:
There’s a battle raging inside the Obama administration about whether the United States ought to push away from its goal of toppling Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and into a de facto alliance with the Damascus regime to fight ISIS and other Sunni extremists in the region.
As President Obama slowly but surely increases the U.S. military presence on the ground in Iraq, his administration is grappling with the immediate need to stop the ISIS advance and push for a political solution in Baghdad. The 3 1/2-year grinding civil war is Syria has been put on a back burner for now. Some officials inside the administration are proposing that the drive to remove Assad from power, which Obama announced as U.S. policy in 2012, be set aside, too. The focus, these officials argue, should instead be on the region’s security and stability. Governments fighting for survival against extremists should be shored up, not undermined.
“Anyone calling for regime change in Syria is frankly blind to the past decade; and the collapse of eastern Syria, and growth of Jihadistan, leading to 30 to 50 suicide attacks a month in Iraq,” one senior Obama administration official who works on Iraq policy told The Daily Beast.
If nothing else demonstrates the checkers mentality of American foreign policy over the last few years, this does. Barack Obama bombed the Moammar Qaddafi regime out of existence on the basis of “responsibility to protect,” creating a failed state in which al-Qaeda and other jihadist networks could flourish. Even while Assad was actively targeting his own people in the way the Obama administration claimed Qaddafi planned, the White House and especially Hillary Clinton insisted that Assad was a “reformer” with whom the US could work to democratize Syria.
When that clearly wasn’t working, the Obama administration switched to a reluctant opponent of Assad’s, boosting the rebels by non-lethal means publicly, and covertly sending small arms — even though we had difficulty in determining who were the “moderates” and who were the extremists. That reached a fever pitch last summer when Assad crossed the ill-advised “red line” drawn by Obama on the use of chemical weapons, at which point Obama at first moved without Congressional involvement to conduct military action against Assad’s regime. When public reaction quickly turned negative on that idea, Obama requested approval from Congress and didn’t get it.
Eleven months later, Obama now wants to work with Assad to defeat the rebellion … or at least the part of the rebellion that the US doesn’t like. The conceptual view of this partnership is a fairy tale that must be read to be believed:
Some administration officials are also suggesting that Iran could be a partner in a post-war Syria, helping to ensure security there during a transition period, after which Assad would negotiate his own departure.
Er, what? Neither Iran nor Assad want Assad to depart at all. Only someone with a rich fantasy life would believe that aligning with Iran and Assad would hasten Assad’s departure, let alone incentivize Assad to arrange for it. All that does is strengthen Assad, and Iran for that matter. It also will infuriate our Sunni partners in the region, who are aligning against Assad and especially Iran. If anything, it will accelerate the sectarian nature of the fight rather than isolate ISIS in the field.
This is what comes from having no foreign policy strategy, other than to get out of Iraq. Obama does not want to return there even to fight ISIS, which is an offshoot of al-Qaeda, even where we have a straight-up fight militarily — and there are good reasons for that, because we probably can’t arrive in time with enough forces to do the job, thanks to the total withdrawal of 2011. He won’t commit air power to it without forcing the Iraqis to dump Maliki either, which again is not altogether unjustified. However, it leaves us with no strategic or tactical way to stop ISIS, no strategic partner in Baghdad, and no other strategic partners from NATO willing to step in and help. Assad is nothing more than a life preserver tossed into an ocean of bad circumstances, and the rationalizations already arising make it look like an even more ridiculous choice.
If we want to fight ISIS, we’d be better off fighting ISIS ourselves. Propping up Assad through Iran is a complete reversal of American foreign policy of the last 35 years, in service to nothing except desperation.