[Marxism] The US strategy against Isis is working for Assad
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Mon Nov 10 17:18:26 MST 2014
The US strategy against Isis is working for Assad
The Syrian president is the beneficiary of a muddled campaign that
leaves him free to strike against his own enemies
o Ian Black
o The Guardian, Friday 7 November 2014 05.31 AEST
o Jump to comments (167)
Bashar al-Assad: 'prefers perpetual war with Isis'. Photograph: AP
Bashar al-Assad was in a relaxed and hospitable frame of mind a couple
of weeks ago, according to a Syrian expat who met him in Damascus. True,
the US was now leading a coalition attacking Islamic State (Isis)
fighters on Syrian soil as well as in Iraq, but he had received firm
assurances that it would not be targeting his own forces. The only
thing, the president admitted, was a nagging worry that the Americans
could not be trusted.
The word from Washington, passed on via Syria’s UN envoy and the
Iranians, was that Barack Obama was focused firmly on the jihadi threat
and had no intention of helping other rebels who are fighting to
overthrow Assad, the guest told friends.
The fact is that in the second month of the US-led air campaign,
American and western policy towards Syria is in disarray and perhaps
facing disaster. Operation Inherent Resolve does not seem worthy of its
grandiose name, hence Assad’s surprisingly upbeat mood.
The latest blow to his enemies was suffered by the Syrian Revolutionary
Front and Harakat Hazm, both groups the US hoped would become the
nucleus of an anti-Isis force. Last weekend in the Idlib area they lost
ground and weapons to Jabhat al-Nusra, a battle-hardened
al-Qaida-aligned outfit which was hit by US air strikes again on
Thursday. The problem, say critics, is that Obama is taking a narrow
counter-terrorist view of Syria and has no strategy for tipping the
scales – even though he claims to want to force Assad to negotiate an
end to the war. Jabhat al-Nusra men are now reportedly fighting
“The US,” said the analyst Faysal Itani, “wants its allies in Syria to
fight its enemies but not their own, and will not even give them
military support to do so effectively.” Many note the gap between verbal
commitments and investment. “US strategy against Isis puts moderate
Syrian rebel forces in an impossible situation,” tweeted Emile Hokayem
of the International Institute for Strategic Studies: ”Assad benefiting,
Isis/Jabhat al-Nusra appearing as anti-Assad champions.”
Fighting Isis in Iraq is tough but still easier, with Kurdish peshmerga
and a functioning if incompetent and sectarian Iraqi army. US plans for
organising Syrian “boots on the ground” looked problematic even before
the latest losses. The $500m (£300m) “train and equip” programme for a
5,000-strong force is modest and painfully slow-moving. Vetting to
prevent (more) US weapons falling into the “wrong” hands has yet to
And events on the battlefields are not standing still. Coalition air
strikes have caused civilian casualties while leaving Assad to act with
impunity, dropping deadly barrel bombs with even greater frequency than
before – and, gallingly, close to where Isis has been hit by US attacks.
Appeals for a no-fly zone to ground the Syrian air force continue to
fall on deaf ears. Hadi al-Bahra, president of the ineffective
western-backed Syrian National Coalition, is unlikely to get a different
response when he attends the shrinking Friends of Syria forum in London
next week. It is a sign of the sluggish pace of international diplomacy
that foreign ministers will not be attending.
This week saw a flurry of interest in a proposal by a European NGO to
expand local ceasefires and freeze the situation on the ground.
Supporters see this as the only way out of the current impasse while
acknowledging that it would give the Syrian government the upper hand.
Critics oppose it for that reason while warning of a growing trend in
European countries – especially by domestic security chiefs fixated by
the Isis “blowback” threat – to cooperate with Assad.
Anecdotal evidence also suggests scepticism in Arab coalition partners –
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan and Bahrain – which fear a Sunni backlash
and question a policy galvanised by the beheading of four western
journalists but not by the 200,000 Syrian deaths that preceded them.
Mistrust of Obama and fear of an impending US-nuclear deal with (Shia)
Iran have to be factored into that mood.
“The limitations of US policy on Syria were obvious from the start and
have become more apparent,” observed Noah Bonsey of the International
Crisis Group. “it is not clear that air strikes against Isis have been a
step forward. The Assad regime is getting near to the point where it can
deal a really serious blow to the viability of the forces that
Washington has identified as its allies moving forward. It prefers
perpetual war with Isis and feels the west will be compelled to work
No wonder, say dispirited Syrian opposition figures, that Assad sounds
more relaxed than embattled these days
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