The Syrian Regime and ISIS: Equal Guilt Requires Equal Sanction

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People inspect damage at a site hit by what activists said were barrel bombs dropped in Aleppo's district of al-Sukari on March 7, 2014.

People inspect damage at a site hit by what activists said were barrel bombs dropped in Aleppo’s district of al-Sukari on March 7, 2014. Photo: Reuters/Hosam Katan.

In an interview on February 8 with BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad alluded to indirect and de facto coordination between his government and the Barack Obama Administration in the fight against the Islamic State group (also referred to as ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh). Confident that the United States-led international coalition will continue its air campaign against the group without widening its operations to include his forces, the president appeared triumphant and convinced of his own survival and that of his regime. Whether the Syrian President was truthful remains to be seen since his regime thrives on misinformation and propaganda. Yet the possibility that he may at least benefit from the U.S. Administration’s perceived blindness raises serious strategic, tactical, and moral questions about the nature and direction of future developments in Syria.

The Atrocities of the Syrian Regime and ISIS

It is undeniable that the Syrian President has used the existence of ISIS and the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front as justification for his regime’s prosecution of a brutal military crackdown on all opponents. He has used tanks, bombers, helicopter gunships, field artillery, barrel bombs, and chemical weapons in pursuit of a military solution to what was originally and essentially still is a political crisis of profoundly and widely contested rule, and lack of representation and civil liberties. In the aforementioned interview, he even denied that his Russian-supplied flying war machines use barrel bombs against entire neighborhoods in areas outside of his control – that, despite innumerable media and eyewitness reports and raw footage videos available for anyone wishing to document such atrocities.

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ISIS, the United States, and the GCC

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It was no ordinary event when 26 countries’ representatives met on February 6 in Munich to discuss how best to confront the challenge of ISIS. What the so-called “Islamic State,” or ISIS, or ISIL represents differs from one person to the next. To people immediately adjacent to lands in Iraq and Syria that ISIS has not yet conquered, the militant movement is a mortal threat. Whether Shia, Sunni, Christian, Arab, Kurdish, or other in nature and orientation, polities that neighbor ISIS-controlled areas have seen their national sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity threatened.

An F/A-18 Hornet on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier in the Gulf on January 1, 2015, conducting air operations in Iraq and Syria.

An F/A-18 Hornet on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier in the Gulf on January 1, 2015, conducting air operations in Iraq and Syria. Photo: U.S. Department of Defense.

The attributes of national sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity are no ordinary phenomena. Together they have been and remain the most important criteria for admission into and membership in good standing within the United Nations.
Unfortunately, the United States in the course of its invasion and occupation of Iraq beginning in 2003 had already smashed to smithereens each of these criteria. Even worse is that the United States simultaneously blasted into nonexistence what exists in the American Constitution – and was previously enshrined in the Iraqi Constitution – namely: provisions for a people’s domestic safety, external defense, enhancement of their material wellbeing, and the effective administration of a civil system of justice.

In so doing, the United States contributed mightily not only to the formation of ISIS but also its focus and priorities. The poignancy of this reality must not be lost. It is but one among other inconvenient truths that plague America’s predicament in seeking to navigate the shoals of the storm its shortsighted actions created.

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