By Manish Rai
It’s hardly a secret that the Obama administration’s plan to topple Syrian President Bashar-Al-Assad has long since been derailed by the rise of the Islamic State that now controls over one-third of Syrian territory and swathes of Iraq. But the evolution of Obama’s rhetoric across successive State of the Union speeches illustrates just how baldly the U.S. has abandoned the prospect of regime change in Syria something it once demanded. As a result of it now Syrian President Bashar-Al-Assad now at least in near future sees his position secured. But the forces of change coupled with strong Iranian and Russian backing and a splintered rebel movement have been a major advantages for Mr Assad. US Secretary of State John Kerry recently said it is time for President Assad, the Assad regime, to put their people first and to think about the consequences of their actions, which are attracting more and more terrorists to Syria, basically because of their efforts to remove Assad. He made no call for Mr. Assad’s resignation, a notable omission for Mr. Kerry, who has typically insisted on it in public remarks. Instead, he spoke of Mr. Assad as a leader who needed to change his policies. It clearly shows major policy shift of US with regard to Syria.
Not only America but other western countries are also looking in mood of tolerating Assad regime. The political solution will of course include some elements of the regime because we don’t want to see the pillars of the state fall apart, France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said last week. But this drastic change in the policy of US and West regarding Syria doesn’t happen all of a sudden it’s a results of very clever strategy of Bashar- Al-Assad. President Assad casts himself as the nation’s guardian against Sunni jihadists, but he has deliberately encouraged the rise of extremism. The Syrian president’s forces have allowed ISIS to consolidate a rump caliphate in north-eastern Syria as a visible warning about what the alternative to his rule looks like. Indeed, Assad’s troops rarely battle ISIS, saving their fire for more moderate enemies. Many analysts now believes Islamic State did not appear from nowhere but was part of a diversionary tactic by the Assad regime to undermine the credibility of its opponents. The regime released jihadists from Syrian jails, and they were able to make common cause with Iraqi militants who profited from America’s departure from Iraq on a timetable set by US electoral considerations. The regime has now won that trick, with some unwitting help from the Americans.
As a result of this strategy of Assad regime they have got a de facto coalition partner in the form of the United States itself, which has not only launched strikes against Islamic State targets within Syria, but also targeted other groups battling the Assad regime like the Khorasan group. American planes now bomb the Islamic State group’s militants in Syria, sharing skies with Syrian jets. American officials assure Mr. Assad, through Iraqi intermediaries, that Syria’s military is not their target. The United States still trains and equips Syrian insurgents, but now mainly to fight the Islamic State, not the government. While the Americans and Mr. Assad ostensibly share a common enemy, the two parties are not formally collaborating. Yet American fighter planes regularly invade Syrian airspace to bomb Islamic State targets and Syrian armed forces don’t show any reaction against US aircrafts. It’s a clear sign of informal understanding between Syrians and Americans. If the main threat is the Islamic State and the goal is to defeat it, might the West at some point be forced to work formally with Mr. Assad. The greater threat in the eyes of west is not now Mr. Assad but the Islamic State, especially if it continues to expand in Syria, entices more foreign fighters into its ranks and uses its territory to launch attacks on the West. A recent study by the Rand Corporation which does research for the government, says the collapse of the Assad regime, while unlikely now, would be the “worst possible outcome” for American interests depriving Syria of its remaining state institutions and creating more space for the Islamic State and other extremists to spread mayhem.
Americans see an emerging international consensus on the need for a long-term diplomatic solution between Mr. Assad and diverse rebel groups. There is also interest in United Nations-led cease-fires in local communities like Aleppo that might serve as a basis for a broader peace. Now the Russians are stepping in and trying to bring the two sides i.e. Syrian Government and Oppositions groups into talks with the apparent aim of a more gradual change in Syria. The prospect of these talks taking place are dim. But the diplomatic move confirms the clear shift in emphasis of US foreign policy away from removing the Assad regime to stopping the ISIS advance. Syrian reconciliation seems bleak but still Assad has enough reason to be confident that he will stay in power at least for some time to come. With his uncompromised grip on the power, Assad seems to have proven his ability even to the US and west by tightening the rope around Syria’s belly. Although Syria still occupies world attention, it is isolated and stuck within Assad’s political narrative dynamics.
(Author is a columnist for Middle-East and Af-Pak region and Editor of news agency Views Around News and its geo-political division Views Around can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)