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Don’t fall for the Assad-or-Islamic State false choice

One of the really unfortunate “ideas” entering the conventional wisdom these days is the notion that, in order to defeat the “Islamic State,” we must ally with the Syrian tyrant and butcher Bashar Assad.

There was a similar silliness in 2006, when “learned” people all over America were insisting we had to team up with Tehran to defeat al-Qaeda. Never mind that the mullahcracy and the bin Laden crew avoided [1] fighting [2] each [3] other [4] and were carving up Iraq between them before President Bush changed strategies and went after both of them in 2007.

Turns out Assad (Tehran’s ally) and IS (al Qaeda’s offshoot) are playing the same game (National Post [5]):

As recently as 2012, ISIS was a marginalized movement confined to a small area of Iraq. Then Mr. Assad emptied Sednaya jail near Damascus of some of its most dangerous jihadist prisoners. If he hoped these men would join ISIS and strengthen its leadership, that aspiration was fulfilled. Several figures in the movement’s hierarchy are believed to be former inmates of Syrian prisons, carefully released by the regime.


By last year, ISIS had captured oilfields in eastern Syria. But to profit, they needed a customer for the oil. Mr. Assad’s regime began buying the oil from the jihadists, so helping to fund the movement, say Western and Middle Eastern governments.


Having provided ISIS with talented commanders, courtesy of his prison amnesties, and filled its coffers with oil money, Mr. Assad then focused his military campaign on the non-Islamist rebels.

Every town and suburb held by the Free Syrian Army was relentlessly pounded from the air and ground. A year ago, the regime even used poison gas against insurgent strongholds in Damascus.


But ISIS enjoyed a curious degree of immunity from these onslaughts. Until the past few weeks, Syria’s air force had scarcely bothered to bomb the town of Raqqa, which serves as the unofficial capital of ISIS.


“The regime was very happy to see [ISIS] rise and it has helped their narrative that they face an extremist Al-Qaeda type enemy against which all force is justified,” said Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding.


“The evidence stacks up that they were definitely encouraging this sort of movement.”


The signs are ISIS has returned the favour. Instead of trying to bring down Mr. Assad, it has concentrated on fighting non-Islamist rebels. When the movement reached what may prove to be the apex of its military strength this year, ISIS did not try to overthrow the regime. Instead, it invaded northern Iraq — and triggered the current crisis.

As Telegraph reporter David Blair (whose piece is linked above) puts it:

Like many Middle Eastern dictators before him, Mr. Assad hopes the West will accept him as the only bulwark against the fanatics whom he has helped.


Put bluntly, he wants to be an arsonist and a firefighter at the same time. The question is whether he will get away with this time-honoured ploy.

A very good question. Our answer must be No. We defeated Iranian stooges and Wahhabi terrorists at the same time in Iraq in 2007-8. There’s no reason we can’t do it again in Iraq and Syria today.