The fact that the $500 million program to train Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State has produced a shameful four or five trainees is beyond disappointing. Although the Assad Regime and the Putin government seek to use this news to gain Western support, the goal of the US-sponsored program was to make Western-friendly Syrian rebels more effective against the Islamic State. Even if successful, more ground forces would still have been needed to address security threats in Syria and Iraq while rebels and Kurdish Peshmerga are still committed to the fight. As such, the failure of this foreign initiative does not justify support for the Assad regime.
Facing the Syrian Refugee Crisis, it is particularly tempting for Europeans to support Russian and Iranian efforts to intervene in the Syrian Civil War. Propping up the Assad regime to cope with the refugee crisis, however, would essentially mean empowering the Assad regime to brutalize his own people, i.e. the reason they are fleeing Syria. When considering European backlash against refugees, Middle Easterners are certain to see support of the Assad regime as affirmation that the West is against Muslims.
In turn, support for Assad would bolster arguments that Muslims are at war with the outside world and must fight with groups like the Islamic State. The Middle East is democratizing and globalizing, which means popular opinion throughout the region matters more than ever. By betraying the majority of Syrians and supporting Assad in his efforts to clutch onto power, the West would only manage to cement anti-Western sentiments felt throughout the Middle East, which come from decades of “free” Westerners supporting the oppressive, self-serving dictators of the region.
Quite frankly, offering support for the Assad regime would demonstrate a thorough misreading of the entire situation. The Syrian Civil War started, because the Assad regime attacked peaceful Syrian protesters who were demanding better living conditions. The Islamic State thrived in Syria, because it fought against the Assad regime. Even if Western-friendly rebels joined forces with Assad to battle the Islamic State, polarization would push others to join the Islamic State. Even if Russian-backed Syrian forces could crush the Islamic State, armed resistance would continue to plague Syria for decades as the Assad regime would only become a deeply entrenched source of instability.
Furthermore, Putin understands his support of the Assad Regime, as well as Iran, makes Russia the enemy of many governments and many people. He also understands that supporting the Assad Regime gives him influence that he can use as leverage when the US has a problem with Syria. Preserving that leverage is, therefore, his primary concern. If Russia can force the US to support Assad for tactical reasons, however, the US will lose its credibility and influence in the eyes of Assad’s enemies. Consequently, the allure of supporting Putin, which would help him win the PR campaign for the Ukraine Crisis, and Assad would do more to undermine US and European interests than help address a serious problem.
With that in mind, the US should be prepared to defend Western-friendly rebels from attacks by the Assad regime. If Putin wishes to avoid a direct US assault on Assad’s forces and a potential escalation between Russia and the US, he needs to help persuade Assad to give up power. The truth is that Putin could significantly improve Russia’s image across the Middle East and Europe, if he helped the Free Syrian Army and Syrian National Council transition into power. Instead of just weakening US influence in the Middle East, Putin could strengthen Russian influence by removing the greatest source of instability in Syria. Consequently, neither the West nor Russia should support Assad.
Read old posts