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A Bad Case for Allying with Assad

Richard Haass unwisely jumps [1] on the “ally with Assad” bandwagon:

Such a policy change would be costly but not as costly as a scenario in which Isis could use Syrian territory from which to mount attacks on the region and beyond. The Assad government may be evil – but it is a lesser evil than Isis, and a local one. Such an accommodation would require a great deal of diplomacy if it were to succeed. Understandings would have to be reached with Damascus, with the mostly secular opposition, much depleted by three years of brutal battles against Isis and the regime; and with outside backers (mainly Iran and Saudi Arabia) about how Syria was to be run, both now and in the future, and what would happen in liberated areas.

As is often the case, the more attractive options may not be feasible, while the option that could prove feasible would present distinct difficulties.

The sudden interest in collaborating with a regime that until very recently Haass wanted the U.S. to bomb [2] is seriously misguided, but it tells us something important about the confusion that threat inflation can cause. Prior to this summer, no one in the West seriously argued for allying with the Syrian regime. Now that ISIS’ recent gains have triggered Western panic and overreaction, this truly terrible idea is beginning to attract supporters. That isn’t because it makes sense for the U.S. to ally with a government that it has been more or less trying to overthrow for the last three years, but because the threat from ISIS is being blown out of proportion [3]. As a result, it is supposed to seem plausible that the U.S. “needs” to work with Assad, but this is absolutely not the case. This relies on the same “enemy of my enemy is my friend” logic that was previously applied by Syria hawks seeking intervention against Assad, and it is just as wrongheaded now as it was then.

Fighting wars of choice is bad enough, but it is simply perverse to insist on making deals with ugly regimes in order to facilitate the war of choice. If the most effective way of fighting ISIS requires the U.S. to go to war in Syria in concert with the Syrian government, that is just one more argument against waging a war on ISIS in the first place. The supposed need to ally with such a horrible government against ISIS depends entirely on grossly exaggerating the threat that the group poses to the U.S. and its allies. The one error flows from the other, and if put into practice would produce an indefensible policy.

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4 Comments To "A Bad Case for Allying with Assad"

#1 Comment By Comrade Dread On August 26, 2014 @ 3:48 pm

The United States and it’s crew of professional warmongering pundits really has no idea what the heck it should do in the Middle East.

In foreign policy, as in medicine, the first rule of any action should be “First, do no harm.”

In this case, we should probably protect the Kurds, who have been allies we’ve treated poorly in the past, and we should protect our own embassy and personnel, but otherwise stay the hell out of it.

I think that should be the governing philosophy for the entire Middle East. Stay the hell out of it.

#2 Comment By John Gruskos On August 26, 2014 @ 7:14 pm

There is no need to ally with Assad.

We could strike a shrewd blow at ISIS and Al-Qaida by simply being *neutral*. From what I’ve read, Assad’s forces seem to be the most effective battlefield opponents of ISIS. We could strengthen the enemy of our enemy by pursuing a *less* interventionist foreign policy, if we stopped supporting the Syrian rebels and ended our economic sanctions against Assad, Iran and Russia.

We could protect our homeland against ISIS and Al-Qaida without spending one dollar or shedding one drop of blood, if we simply ended immigration from that region of the world.

Finally, we could lessen our economy’s dependance on oil if we built more coal and nuclear power plants. This would reduce the cost of electricity, making heating oil a thing of the past and a larger railroad system economically feasible. If the resulting downward pressure on world oil prices put a strain on the coffers of those who support groups like Al-Qaida and ISIS, all the better.

#3 Comment By AnotherBeliever On August 26, 2014 @ 7:30 pm

There is a case for a Syria settlement, preferably under the aegis of the UN. But this wouldn’t be an alliance, it would be all the parties working out where our concerns overlap in regards to ISIS. Ideally, this would happen in coordination with efforts to get Iraq and Syria’s governments to grant Sunnis some measure of security and place in government. And a couple of helpful pronouncement from very senior clerics in Egypt, Saudi, Iraq, and Iran condemning ISIS actions and supporting the deescalation of conflict in the region.

Because what the interventionists can’t see is that this isn’t a problem you can just bomb your way out of. Until outside players quit fueling the fire, Sunnis and minority groups have a secure position to fall back on politically, religious authorities single out ISIS, and regional actors throw their weight behind these efforts, the threat from ISIS will grow. Once all these things are initiated, ISIS will be undercut.

Under these circumstances, I think air strikes on any tanks or artillery or Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadis which ISIS leaves out in unpopulated areas are fair game, with concurrence of the area’s ostensible government. But these are not sufficient by themselves.

ISIS is a threat to us. But it is not an existential threat, and no one on the interventionist side has been able to explain why a few bomb runs thousands of miles away would prevent an attack inside the U.S. by a determined individual or group. The intelligence and law enforcement measures we have in place will largely suffice.

#4 Comment By James Canning On August 27, 2014 @ 1:30 pm

I of course have deplored the vicious civil war in Syria since it erupted. But a victory by the Syrian government may well be the best outcome achievable under the circumstances that obtain.