We can’t destroy ISIS without removing Bashar al Assad first

Fred Hof writes: On Wednesday evening, President Obama took 14 minutes to articulate, in clear and persuasive language, a counter-terrorism strategy “to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL.” Yet the problem presented by an ersatz caliph and an amalgam of criminals, terrorists, executioners, and foreign fighters goes far beyond one of counter-terrorism. The Islamic State — just like its parent, Al Qaeda in Iraq — cannot be killed unless the causes of state failure in Syria and Iraq are addressed and rectified. Although such a task cannot be the exclusive or even principal responsibility of the American taxpayer, the president’s strategy, its implementation, and its outcome will be incomplete if it remains solely one of counter-terrorism.

The essential problem that has permitted the Islamic State to roam freely in parts of Iraq and Syria amounting in size to New England is state failure in both places. Redressing this failure is far beyond the unilateral capacity of the United States, as occupation in Iraq and ongoing operations in Afghanistan demonstrate. Still the fact remains that until Syria and Iraq move from state failure to political legitimacy — to systems reflecting public consensus about the rules of the political game — the Islamic State will remain undead no matter how many of its kings, queens, bishops, rooks, and pawns are swept from the table. And yet a strategy that does not address how America and its partners can influence the endgame — keeping the Islamic State in its grave — is simply incomplete.

Iraq and Syria are extreme examples of the fundamental grievances embodied by the 2011 Arab Spring. Since the 1920s, much of the Arab World has been struggling to answer one fundamental question: what is it that follows the Ottoman Sultan-Caliph as the source of political legitimacy? The answer suggested by protesters in Tunis, Cairo, Deraa, and elsewhere was compellingly correct: the consent of the governed. [Continue reading…]

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5 thoughts on “We can’t destroy ISIS without removing Bashar al Assad first

  1. Chet

    The article is a neocons wet dream. The author claims that Syria is a “failed state” has no “political legitimacy”. First of all, the Syrian government is the recognized “legitimate” government by the world community. Secondly, it is not a failed state (like the one created in Libya by the Western powers) but a state that is in a war primarily with foreign sponsored mercenaries. The U.S.’s (and the Israeli Firsters in the government) real grievance with Syria is that it is aligned with Iran. If the U.S. was concerned about “legitimate” governments in the Middle East it would bomb Saudi Arabia and Egypt, both are far worse than Syria and there is overwhelming proof (read Senator Bob Graham re this) that the Saudis were involved in 911 and they regularly conduct beheadings.. And what replaces Assad if he is overthrown? The U.S. has no clue what the outcome will be, much like its R2P bombing of Libya and the invasion of Iraq.

    “The essential problem that has permitted the Islamic State to roam freely in parts of Iraq and Syria amounting in size to New England is state failure in both places.”

    And not a word about how this “state failure” (a questionable term for Syria) occurred. No mention that the U.S. essentially “broke” Iraq or that it was the Saudi and Qatari arming and funding of Jihadists that escalated the war in Syria to the current levels.

    This article reminds me of the Israelis pointing out the missiles shooting into Israel as the starting point of all discussion, no mention of the decades long Israeli criminal and genocidal brutalization of the Palestinians. The underlying theme of the article is essentially the opportunistic furtherance of the neocon agenda to neutralize all of Israel’s perceived enemies, not surprising coming from the New Republic.

  2. Paul Woodward

    Syria, in which the government has control over less than half the country, is not a failed state? That’s like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail saying he had just a “flesh wound” after he’d had both arms chopped off.

    Having dismissed Hof’s assertion that Syria lacks a representative government, I guess you must believe that the June election in which Assad supposedly got 88% of the vote, was free and fair.

    Assad can’t be written off of course, since he still has the great champion of freedom on his side, Vladamir Putin.

    Whether or not Assad can continue relying on the Iranians in the long run remains to be seen — they have a bigger interest in protecting their assets in Iraq and the mess in Syria is now spilling dangerously close to Iran’s borders which is why Iran and the U.S. currently find themselves on the same side.

    Sarcasm aside, what comes after Assad? That is a serious question and it can only be ignored by Assad’s dreamiest apologists who believe he will always remain in power.

    Syria is at the epicenter of a Middle East crisis that has been decades in the making and the region can no more easily fix itself than Europe could fix itself at the end of World War Two.

  3. Chet

    Was the United States a “failed state” during the civil war when a large portion of the land was controlled by the Confederate government? Syria is in a state of war fighting a war against jihadist mercenaries funded by such “champions of freedom” as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, while there may be some similarities, calling it a “failed state” is just a useful term to justify and excuse the overthrow of the current government.

    While I’m not fan of Assad or an “apologist”, what other Arab country’s election would you present as a good example of fair elections, especially during a war, in the region? Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait? Or maybe Egypt? This selective concern about Syrian elections just reflects a bias.

    What comes after Assad? Dismissing the casual slur, “Assad apologist”, to describe someone that disagrees with the continuation of policies that have only lead to chaos in the region, it’s not difficult to project what kind of government will replace Assad. Just look at the strongest factions fighting Assad: the most radical factions and best fighters like al-Nusra Front supported by the Saudis or the Islamic State. The others are weak and ineffectual. So, the likely replacement will be a Saudi funded radical Wahhibi run regime, some form of IS or, like Libya, a country in chaos ruled by regional warlords.

    For many decades U.S. and Israel and other Western countries have been the epicenters of the causes for the Middle East crisis, the Arab countries in the ME are merely the beneficiaries.

  4. Paul Woodward

    Here’s the description of a failed state provided by Wikipedia:

    A failed state is a state perceived as having failed at some of the basic conditions and responsibilities of a sovereign government. Although there is no general consensus on the definition, Fund for Peace characterizes a failed state as having the following characteristics:

    • Loss of control of its territory, or of the monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force therein
    • Erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions
    • Inability to provide public services
    • Inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community

    All of those characteristics apply to Syria.

  5. Kareem Najjar

    This discussion falters because the roots of the conflict are not addressed – namely, the arming, training and financing of the foreign militias in Syria by Western and Gulf states.
    While one may argue that Assad may not have ‘88% popularity’, one can’t deny that he has a strong plurality of support in Syria.
    Any proper change cannot happen without involving the current regime as at least equal partners in the future of Syria. The regime has consistently supported negotiations as part of a political solution. The opposition won’t talk unless Assad is first ousted.
    As much as I despise the current Syrian regime, I would be living in a dreamworld if I ignored Assad as part of the equation towards a long term solution.

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