This headline should be rephrased, for accuracy, as follows: Why the plan to work with Bashar Al Assad and Tehran to confront ISIS is stupide.
The reasons are the following:
* ISIS is a distorted expression of the Sunnis in Iraq and Syria to share in ruling their community. As long as this aspiration is not fulfilled, the Sunnis in both countries will, reluctantly or willingly, support ISIS against their own enemies. Ironically, these enemies are Al Assad and Iran.
* Without the support of the Iranians Al Maliki would not have been able to implement the sectarian policies that led to the rebirth of a new kid, worse than the mother if this could be ever imagined, which is ISIS that is an off spring of Al Qaeda. And without the Iranian support, Al Assad could have never been able to sustain his deliberate transformation of the Syrian civilian uprising into a situation that induced the spread of ISIS and Al in Syria.
* We are dealing, therefore, with a situation that instead of turning to mute the sectarian lines as was intended by the US forces in Iraq until 2010 and was possible in Syria if the regime did not use brutal force to confront demonstrators chanting “Assad..We do not like you”, into a situation that enhanced this negative force (sectarianism) to an uncontrollable level. Any US move in such an extremely polarized context risks to put the US in one side in the perceptions of the other side.
* But really it becomes stupide when it is suggested that such a move is to be siding with those who created this mess and caused it to take this unfortunate turn. If the US sides with Iran, Al Maliki governance methods, and Al Assad to confront ISIS it will simply be willing to return the time to 2008-2010. At that time Al Maliki was in power, his forces were gradually delivered control everywhere in Iraq. Al Assad was presiding over a country that appears to be calm and stable.
*This WAS the case. But where is it now? If we wish to go back to enable Al Assad to quell the opposition and to enable Al Maliki to continue oppressing the Sunnis we will have to face ISIL for decades to come. Stability, if ever achieved, will be very short lived.
What to do then? Should we leave a gang of cannibals thrive and turn to threaten the whole region and the world.
The fight against ISIL should be guided by certain concepts:
First, the only effective force to fight Sunni terrorism is The Sunnis themselves. This is even more relevant when the fight is conducted along sectarian lines.
Second, a separation between Sunni aspiration to be treated as full citizens of their own countries and ISIL political and ideological position should be implemented. How?. Sunnis in Iraq should rule their own region within the federation that was promised to them by the US forces when they were pacifying the region. In Syria, If Al Assad does not want to leave in order to form an inclusive government, he should be forced to go.
Third, the solution in Syria is any thing between a Syrian Taif deal or a federation based on sectarian lines.
Fourth, a structure of such a deal should organically incorporate ways to guarantee the rights of minorities and the collective fight against ISIL and its like minded organization.
Fifth, such a deal will never work unless it is regionally approved. Saudi Arabia and Iran should be brought to the negotiating table to sign.
If ISIS is perceived as the force fighting for the rights of Sunnis against their non-Sunni oppressors this perception has to be tackled head on. The separation between the aspirations of the Sunnis in Iraq and Syria in one hand and ISIS, Al Nusra, etc is imperative as ground preparation for an effective campaign, mainly by the Sunnis assisted by regional and international forces is imperative.
Al Maliki and Al Assad presided over relatively calm countries. They are not calm anymore. In this short phrase there is a lot to learn from.
How could we get the Syria situation to where we want it to be?. Let the Sunni opposition take on ISIS and force Al Assad into compromise. This will not happen unless the Saudis understand clearly the ultimate end game, and be compelled to work to reach it through verifiable steps (no more lip service).
Incorporated brakes should be built in the structure of the train0equip program in order to be able to cease fire when the moment of negotiations with Al Assad comes. (Usually, it is difficult to convince a winning party to stop when they see they are winning. It is therefore important not to tilt the balance decisively).
Where should we be now?
- Intensive diplomatic preparations (particularly between Saudi Arabia and Iran) to discuss a sectarian division of the Levant. It is shoking to say it, but am I saying anything that we do not ACTUALLY see? Instead of these bloody attempts to divide it, let us just make it more civilized.
- Assist the Syrian moderate opposition (and YES, there is moderate opposition, just look at the Ghota fighters who are thinking now to join ISIS though none of them is a Jihadist. The reason is ISIS has a lot of sophisticated American weapons – from Iraq- while the moderates have been begging for help for more than two years)
- Should we allow the “state” to collapse in Syria?. No even though it does not really exist. The concept of the state plus whatever left of it should be preserved. A total victory by the opposition should be prevented. If not ae better get ready to see a total chaos.
- The US should interfere directly in one of three cases. If Damascus or Baghdad or Jordan is threatened by ISIS.
Josh Rogin described the debate in the NSC about working with Iran and Al Assad to confront ISIS. Leslie Gelb returned back to the over simplistic views of dealing with Iraq. What Gelb said in 2006 was wrong then. We still had a chance to preserve peaceful relations between the components of Iraq. This chance was squandered by Al Maliki and his enablers in Tehran. Work with them? Please do not. It will be another terrible mistake.