Guest Contributor: Paul Iddon
Devotees of more realpolitik oriented foreign policy persuasions claim they aren’t under any illusions about the brutality of the regime of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. Nevertheless in their worldview limited cooperation with him against a threat like Islamic State (IS) is necessitated by the dire and unsavoury circumstances which exist today in Syria. And since neither the United States nor the United Kingdom are likely to insert ground forces to combat IS forces in Syria a temporary alliance or coordination of operations with Damascus solely in order to fight IS is the best option to feasibly confront this threat.
Or so the argument for such cooperation with Assad goes. As with many arguments promulgated by the realists this sounds relatively logical on a superficial level. But upon evaluation it evidently ignores the reality that by siding with Assad both powers would be cooperating with a regime which essentially helped incubate IS’s growth in eastern Syria in the first place. After all it intentionally stayed out of that groups way, and for the most part IS too stayed out of the way of the Syrian military, while it killed other anti-Assad opposition groups way opting to only confront it when it had to. What really mattered, and still does, to Assad was brutally and completely crushing the more moderate groups to insure that none of them would be able to create substantial ‘reality on the ground’ from which to negotiate a political settlement to the end of that horrible war.
A war that has left some three million Syrians refugees and destroyed the country and is showing no signs of let up. The Syrian regime has lost control of large swaths of the country’s east which IS presently controls. Territory which they have used to destabilise Northern Iraq and target minority groups there. While the Obama administration has said it does not “yet” have a strategy for how to deal with IS in Syria it has said it will not cooperate with Damascus when it comes to combating IS.
Some of the realist persuasion would, and indeed do, argue that by not cooperating with the Assad regime the United States will be violating Syrian sovereignty by striking Islamic State targets in eastern Syria. This also is the line taken by the Syrian Foreign Minister who recently stated that the regime welcomes strikes against IS in Syria’s east provided they are coordinated with Damascus and given Assad’s consent. However the salient reality is that the Syrian regime no longer governs or has any control over that territory and has essentially been complicit in allowing a dangerous expansionist terrorist organisation to not only seize part of its territory but also use that territory in order to attack neighbouring Iraq and uproot various minority groups there. It would more likely than not have massacred them if they weren’t confronted by the United States and its Kurdish allies.
In light of these circumstances talking about the Syrian regimes sovereignty over that part of the country is counterproductive. Syria has no control or sovereignty of that territory and that territory certainly cannot be allowed by the international community to be left in control of Islamic State of all groups when it is perfectly well known what they intend to do to the people on it.
The protection and shielding of minorities from potential acts of genocide is an obligation of any signatory of the Genocide Convention. Certainly preventing a group like Islamic State from expanding, or even consolidating their control over captured territories in both Syria and Iraq, would be upholding that obligation which is of course both a legal as well as a moral one.
Given Assad’s prior acquiescence to the rise of Islamic State and his regimes destruction of the country and mass-murder of its citizens he is neither a credible sovereign head of state nor a viable partner of any kind in the fight against Islamic State.
Paul Iddon is a freelance journalist and writer. His main areas of interest are Middle Eastern affairs, politics and history.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Human Security Centre.