Obama, Assad and ISIS: our grim vindication

Well, it sure gives us a sense of deja vu. Obama's Sept. 10 speech making the case for military intervention against ISIS (Time transcript) comes exactly a year after his call for military intervention against Bashar Assad. Except this time, he seems to really mean it. Last year, he punted to Congress, saying he needed authorization to wage war—which some sarcastically called Obama's "brilliant strategy to keep us out of Syria," despite Assad having called his "red line" bluff with the Ghouta chemical weapons attack. The way it played out, Congress never even had to vote, due to Obama's acceptance of the Russian plan for "voluntary elimination" of Assad's chemical weapons—which has failed to acheive even that, and was really Putin's bid to buy time for Assad to go on killing his people by "conventional" means. Now, in contrast, that a real intervention in Iraq and eventually Syria is in the works—not against Assad but against ISIS—there isn't a peep about asking Congress for permission. Isn't that funny? Hate to say "told you so," but we've long predicted that when the US finally intervened in Syria it would not be against Assad but the jihadists. Note that Obama's speech says nothing about his erstwhile demand that Assad step down—but, on the contrary, invokes the need for a "political solution" in Syria. This implicitly means a deal with the genocidal dictator who has abetted the rise of ISIS by buying their oil. What an insult to the Syrian resistance (including the democratic civil resistance) that has been staking everything to fight the dictator and the jihadists alike.

We say that Obama also bears responsibility in the rise of ISIS. For years now, the Obama administration has been flipping the script—tilting now to the Free Syrian Army, now to the "moderate" (sic) jihadists, now to Assad, prolonging the war. Our comrade blogger Nott George Sabra writes that Obama's ill-conceived strategy has been to:

Engineer a military stalemate between the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Assad's forces and eventually, the thinking went, both sides will realize they can't win and sue for peace. Here's how this policy shaped U.S. actions from 2011-2014:

  • When the rebels were winning in 2011-2012, the U.S. and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) imposed a blockade on heavy weapons shipped in from abroad to check rebel momentum.
  • When that worked and the rebels lost their momentum, the regime regrouped (with massive Iranian intervention) and went on the offensive in 2013, the U.S. and its allies allowed some heavy weapons to get through to FSA. However, anti-aircraft missiles known as MANPADS continued to be blocked and they are the only type of weapon that might stop the regime's barrel bombing campaigns and even they are no substitute for a no-fly zone since planes and helicopters can fly even higher out of range from ground missile fire.
  • In 2014, (after some slick politicking by Syrian opposition coalition president Ahmed Jarba) the U.S. and its allies began directly and steadily supplying select factions of FSA with heavy weapons, some 40,000 men or so in Idlib and Daraa governates, after U.S. efforts to achieve a negotiated settlement at Geneva 2 ended in miserable failure.

Hobbling the rebels is what allowed Daesh [ISIS] to smash the rebels and expel them [from] the oil-rich province of Deir Ezzor in the first place, allowing Daesh to set up the world’s first completely self-financed terrorist state.

And now that ISIS is forcing his hand through the sheer scale of its barbarism, it still seems as if Obama is using a see-saw strategy between the dictatorship and the resistance. As we've said before: Whatever you make of the ethics of US military intervention in Syria, this is a hopeless muddle of cynicism.

  1. Obama connives with Assad

    The New York Times reported Jan. 19 that the State Department has signed off on two separate diplomatic initiatives aimed at bringing about the end of the Syrian civil war. One omission made both proposals particularly notable: Neither contains the prerequisite for the end of Assad's rule. In declaring American support for the plans, Secretary of State John Kerry statement implicitly legitimized Assad's rule: "It is time for President Assad, the Assad regime, to put their people first and to think about the consequences of their actions, which are attracting more and more terrorists to Syria, basically because of their efforts to remove Assad." (The Atlantic, Jan. 20)

  2. EU sanctions for accused Assad-ISIS oil broker

    A Syrian businessman described as the "middleman" for oil deals between ISIS and the Bashar Assad regime will be targeted for European Union sanctions. The listing of George Haswani, the owner of HESCO engineering company, operates a gas plant at Tabqa in central Syria which was captured by ISIS last August. Officials believe this installation is being run jointly by Isil and personnel from the regime. The gas facility continues to supply areas of Syria controlled by Assad. Other oil and gas fields in ISIS hands are thought to be operated by personnel who remain on the payroll of the regime's oil ministry. The oil is then sold to Assad, who distributes it in areas he controls at relatively low prices, helping him to win the loyalty of local people. (The Telegraph, March 7)