Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has earnestly promoted himself as a useful ally in the fight against the Islamic State group in his country. Could he really be an imperfect, yet useful, ad-hoc ally in this fight?
Outrage pervaded across the Kingdom of Jordan recently when the dreaded Islamic State group released a video showing the burning alive of the captured Jordanian pilot Muath Al-Kaseasbeh. In the wake of that heinous murder a proposal was put forward to the Jordanian kingdom from the regime in Syria of all places. The proposal was that Amman should team up with its regional neighbour in Damascus in order “to cooperate in the fight against terrorism represented by the organization Daesh (ISIS) and Nusra Front.”
It’s one of those proposals which sounds expedient and practical on the surface. After all, it’s a cruel and dangerous world out there and you sometimes have to make deals with bad people in order to defeat truly evil people. In this case, the idea goes, Assad is an embattled dictator who has killed tens of thousands, but is containable and might as well be cooperated with if it is done in order to fight the greater evil, and danger, posed by Islamic State. A not overly dissimilar view to the one held by the administration of U.S. President Ronald Reagan when it came to to justifying its ad-hoc support of the Iraqi Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein against Iran in the bloody war which raged throughout the 1980’s (about which Henry Kissinger once blithely remarked, “It’s a pity they can’t both lose”).
Underpinning this argument however is the assumption that Assad has indeed been doing his utmost to confront Islamic State. Since he ruthlessly crushed unarmed political demonstrations in the wake of the so-called Arab Spring in early 2011, a move which sparked this violent ongoing war, he has claimed that he is fighting terrorists like al-Qaeda, and of course Islamic State. An al-Qaeda affiliate, the Jabhat al-Nusra Front, has indeed risen to significance prominence in Syria and the Islamic State has of course usurped Syrian territory in the northeast to build its “caliphate”. Assad has no forces actively combating Islamic State in that part of Syria and has indeed been avoiding targeting that group as available evidence amply illustrates. Indeed his regime adopted a strategy whereby they avoided targeting Islamic State wherever they feasibly could while that group consolidated its control in areas where it was fighting at the expense of other opposition groups who also threatened Assad’s regime.
Indeed Assad’s regime, as far as it constitutes the ruling governmental authority in Syria, is at least partially culpable for Islamic States’ rampage from Syrian territory into Iraq for that very reason. A recent International Business Times piece illustrated how the regime is still responsible for the killings, be they direct or indirect, of most of those Syrians who make up the horrendous 200,000+ death toll. That article concluded with this very illustrative example,
“The difference between ISIS and the regime’s brutality against civilians was tragically represented in the de facto ISIS headquarter sof Raqqa one day in November. Regime airplanes carried out at least airstrikes on the city in the morning, killing at least 50 civilians. That afternoon, media activists told IBTimes, ISIS militants publicly executed two civilians in the city’s main square. Though they used different methods, and the numbers may be vastly different, the result is the same for Syria’s war-weary people.”
One cannot help but to feel sombre when one considers how bad it’s gotten for those Syrians who remain in their country who have to face artillery barrages flattening their homes, barrel bombs exploding in their streets and Islamic State fanatics brutally subjugating them wherever they can.
Journalist Jonathan Tepperman recently, quite bravely, went to Syria to interview the Syrian dictator. Following his time with Mr. Assad he offered us a psychoanalysis of the Syrian autocrat based on his encounter with him, part of which informs us that,
“Assad’s constant pairing of the rational with the absurd was a neat rhetorical trick; it made the latter seem more credible through proximity to the former. And his utter, unblinking conviction added to the effect. Either Syria’s president is an extremely competent fabulist – in which case he’s mere a sociopath – or he actually believes his life, in which case he’s something much more dangerous (like a delusional psychopath).”
Tepperman’s appraisal of the Syrian presidents mentality dissuades one further from taking seriously any advocation of an expedient alliance with the despot against Islamic State, especially given his aforementioned acquiescence to the groups rise coupled with his horrendous atrocities against the people of Syria. A people whose suffering, it’s depressing to conclude, does not look like it will be, or can be, alleviated anytime soon.