I agree with what Hamish says in his excellent article in Tim Marshall’s theWhatandtheWhy except for working with Assad. I think this is the Russian plan all along. It is a trap for the West to bolster Assad, rehabilitate, and keep him in power.
The recent horrifying attacks in Paris has re-focused the spot-light on ISIS and its plans to take the war to Europe.
The beheading in the summer of 2014 of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff prompted the US to mobilise a broad coalition of allies to bomb ISIS bases in Iraq and Syria. This week UK Prime Minister David Cameron delivered a statement in the House of Commons after setting out a detailed, 32-page response to the influential Foreign Affairs Committee report on military action in Syria. In it he said Isis was “not a threat that can be negotiated away” and the only way to confront the threat of further terrorist atrocities in the West was “to deal with that reality” and “address the threat we face”.
Writing in www.theWhatandtheWhy.com Hamish de Bretton Gordon OBE suggests that –
‘Politically, we must enter into some uncomfortable alliances with Russia, Iran, and Assad – the latter being the most challenging. We must remember it is Isil threatening us in the UK and not Assad. However abhorrent the Syrian regime is, we are going to have to work with it for any chance of success’.
Hamish de Bretton Gordon is not alone, last year Sir Malcolm Rifkind, ex-chairman of the UK’s Intelligence and Security Committee proposed talking to Iran and working with Assad. A number of journalists and public figures from Lord Dannatt to Sir Christopher Meyer suggest similar alliances. But how to square an alliance with an acknowledged tyrant who is responsible for the death of over 200,000 Syrians using barrel-bombs and toxic gases?
The Assad regime committed unspeakable crimes against its own people, colluding with ISIS since August 2013. Ample documented evidence shows that the Assad regime never targeted ISIS but invariably attacked the Free Syrian Army, the only moderate rebel group in Syria fighting ISIS When ISIS seized oil wells the regime was its first customer, providing funding and support. Now Russia is doing the same. Until now the Russian air campaign has not seriously damaged ISIS, but targeted moderate rebels and bolstered the Assad regime. It is clear that Vladimir Putin is setting a trap for the West.
Some observers would like to see more Arab and regional involvement. Koert Debeuf, of the European Parliament’s Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe and author of “Inside the Arab Revolution” told Carnegie Europe in 2014: “Yes, Europe will go to war against the Islamic State –but it should not lead the campaign”. Europe, he argues, is already at war, albeit in a limited way. UK and France are supporting the US in stopping the march of ISIS into Kurdistan by launching air attacks and arming the Peshmerga (the Kurdish military), who are fighting the jihadists.
Even the hapless US Secretary of State Kerry is on record as saying: “Assad is the single biggest magnet for terrorists there is. He is a one-man super-magnet for terrorism. Before Assad started killing his own people, these terrorists were not in Syria.”
The debate continues, President Obama dithers, but what is certain is that action against ISIS must be taken, and very soon, without Assad.
Two years ago, the use of chemical weapons saved Assad’s regime, and now that regime is trying to survive on the back of the war against ISIS.
In the summer of 2013 David Cameron pledged his support to President Obama in confronting the Syrian regime. The pledge was wrecked by then then opposition leader Miliband, for narrow political advantage. Had action been taken 2 years ago, we wouldn’t have heard of ISIS.
The most cost effective and ethical strategy for the West is to ignore Assad and provide full military support to the FSA in Syria and to arm the Peshmerga in Northern Iraq. They can do the job themselves with air support from NATO.
Assad has mobilised every resource and every possible weapon, including poison gas, for use against the non-Islamist rebels. Day after day, his tanks, artillery and strike aircraft pound the remaining strongholds of the FSA and deliberately avoid direct confrontation with ISIS. For the last two years only the FSA and the Kurdish fighters have been battling ISIS on the ground.
The top priority now is the eradication of ISIS but without Syrian help – quite the reverse. The most pressing objective for the campaign should be the removal of ISIS’s key ally, the Assad regime.