The chorus for re-legitimating Assad continues to grow bigger and louder, with two more experts joining the fray through an op-ed in the New York Times that appeared today. The two experts, Julien Barnes-Dacey, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, and Daniel Levy, the director of the council’s Middle East program, argue that:
“just like in Iraq, Syrian Sunnis will ultimately need to expel ISIS from their communities. This means creating an anti-ISIS front that draws on both regime and opposition elements and encourages both to train their guns on ISIS rather than each other. That is something that neither Mr. Assad nor the non-ISIS opposition has been willing to accept until now. As a prerequisite this will have to involve putting aside the standard Western mantra that Mr. Assad must go. Syria needs power-sharing. Engineering a transfer of power away from Mr. Assad that repeats Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s removal in Iraq is not realistic. But a new and remarkable convergence of regional interests is now taking shape that makes a power-sharing agreement in Syria more plausible.”
This kind of flawed thinking does not only reward impunity, and ignores “the industrial-scale” mass killing unleashed by Assad, a development that is reminiscent of the worst crimes committed by the Nazis, to use the words of officials currently at the State Department, but it takes us back to the cynical policies of working with dictators who abuse their own people in order to confront threats to global security that these dictators themselves manufacture. Extremism is but a symptom of the disease that is authoritarianism, cronyism, corruption and lack of development. ISIS is but a symptom of the disease represented by the Assad and Maliki regimes, and their Iranian and Russian backers. It’s about time we stopped embracing the disease while fighting the symptom.
Yes, we do need a power-sharing arrangement in Syria, but working with genocidal maniacs will not get us there. Early intervention could have saved us this entire headache, but this is academic now. However, it’s interesting to see some of the same people who opposed intervention then (and I am not necessarily referring to the two authors of this article, because I don’t know what their position at the time was), an intervention that would have prevented the mass slaughter unleashed by Assad against mostly unarmed prodemocracy activists, now back an expanded military intervention that would in effect re-legitimate the Assad regime and justify its impunity and its murderous sectarian tactics.
More on this issue can be found in my recent article in The Guardian.
The “funny” thing is, some are seeking to re-legitimate Assad when more and more members of his own Alawite community inside Syria, that is the community he is allegedly protecting, are beginning to agitate against him, with some seeing him as too weak in the face ISIS and rebels to be able to defend them, and others as being too authoritarian and selfish to the point where his policies are endangering the very survival of the Alawite community, and the very survival of Syria as a unified state, or its sovereignty as Iranian influence grows by the day in those parts still under regime control.