Secretary of State John Kerry has negotiated a ceasefire that, if effective, will allow US to focus on defeating ISIS. Finally, an intelligent policy on Syria and ISIS.

Secretary of State John Kerry has negotiated a ceasefire that, if effective, will allow US to focus on defeating ISIS. Finally, a Rational US Policy in Syria.

There are roughly three sides to the Syrian conflict.

  1. The Syrian Government.  This is the Assad led regime in power in Syria.  They are predominantly Shi’a Muslims, backed by Russia and Iran.  They also have links to Hezbollah, which is a Shi’a terrorist group that is very anti-Israel, anti-ISIS, anti-Al Qaeda, but has little to no history of conflict with the US.  All together, these forces seek to keep Syria united under the Assad regime in Syria.
  2. ISIS and Al Qaeda.  These groups are now at odds with each other, but they come from the same stock.  Around 2010-11, you may have read horror stories in the news about Al Qaeda torturing Christians and others in Syria.  These Al Qaeda linked terrorists, ISIS, were then part of the Al Qaeda network, but were so sadistic, that even Al Qaeda didn’t want anything to do with them.  So for that and many other reasons, Al Qaeda disavowed them.
  3. The rebels”  That would be “the rebels” who aren’t ISIS, as ISIS is also in rebellion against Assad.  Some of these non-ISIS rebels make up a largely toothless group called “the Free Syrian Army”.  This group is pro-Democracy, seeks US aid against Assad, and is not friendly towards ISIS…so they say.

Our strategic options

Option 1 – So basically, there’s a very weak group that we ideally would like to see in power – the Free Syrian Army.  There’s a very dangerous enemy – ISIS.  And there’s the established government that we don’t particularly like, but is fighting against both ISIS and the Free Syrian Army – the Assad regime.  The best possibility would be for the Free Syrian Army to somehow win…and not betray us by joining with ISIS or harboring them.  But they are so weak, nothing short of a full scale US led invasion, followed by a lengthy Iraq-like occupation could put the Free Syrian Army in power and keep them there.

Option 2 – So, unless we’re prepared for another Iraq, the rational thing to do is go to the next best option – The Syrian Government.  Assad is cruel.  He has used chemical weapons on his people.  He kills ISIS and “Free Syrian Army” alike with no concern for civilian lives.  But he also has no hostile intentions towards the US except when our government aids any of the rebels, regardless of whether it’s ISIS, Al Qaeda, the Free Syrian Army.  If we simply stay out of it, or limit our involvement to attacking ISIS, Assad will likely win.  We may not particularly like him, but he need not be our enemy, and he will keep ISIS and Al Qaeda at bay.  

Option 3 – The third, and worst option, is to tip the scales in favor of ISIS.  To attack the Assad regime, without a full scale invasion, pretty much puts the Free Syrian Army, the Shi’a of Syria, the Christian minority, and everyone else at the mercy of ISIS.  Needless to say, we should do everything in our power to keep this from happening.

The last 5 years

So, with the above in mind, it’s clear we need either option 1, or option 2.  As Americans are war wary, as our government is over $19 trillion in debt, as we struggle to maintain our status as the world’s sole military superpower; option 2 is the most prudent.  

With that in mind, now consider what our leaders have done so far? Largely motivated by idealism and a faith in international law, our leaders, including then Sec. of State Hillary Clinton, chose a half hearted attempt at option 1.  They decided to try to back the Free Syrian Army, without getting fully involved.  

We heard about Assad’s atrocities against his own people.  We hear about how Obama drew a “red line” and said that if Assad crosses said line, by using chemical weapons, our government would use military force to topple him.

Our leaders from Hillary Clinton to Rick Perry told us that we needed to defeat ISIS by toppling the Assad regime. However,  Clinton never took time to explain exactly why  she thought the best way to defeat ISIS was to defeat their enemies for them.

The plan was to back the Free Syrian Army with weapons and perhaps airstrikes against Assad.  Our leaders were banking on the hope that the Free Syrian Army would come out stronger than ISIS, though they were clearly weaker at the time, and that the Free Syrian Army would be so grateful for our help that they would return the favor by risking their newly obtained, and very fragile democracy by attacking ISIS.  This is the same ISIS that has sent US backed Iraqi soldiers fleeing for their lives numerous times. This has been a miserable failure.

ISIS has grown and brought the fight to us.  The weapons sent to aid “the rebels” ended up in the hands of ISIS.  Many innocents have died at the hands of all sides of the Syrian Civil War, and no side is closer to winning.  The Free Syrian Army, as a pro-democracy force, is almost non-existent now, though the label is still widely used by different rebel groups with dubious intent.

If the American people had been properly informed from the beginning of this incredibly risky venture, it’s likely that public opinion would have been even more strongly against any intervention.  

Our media was careful to barely mention the fact that ISIS is actually the enemy of Assad and Russia, and that attacking Assad only risked empowering ISIS; unless of course, their zany Daffy Duck scheme explained above were to actually work.  Even now, the neocons accuse Kerry of “capitulating” with this ceasefire, relying on public ignorance of these details.  

John Kerry’s Agenda for Syria

John Kerry is often criticized for being indecisive, but he certainly can’t be criticized for being impetuous.  When he does come to a political decision, you can rest assured that decision is the result of much thought and discussion with his peers.

In order to focus on defeating ISIS, Sec. of State Kerry has negotiated a cease fire between the Syrian government and US backed rebels, which means an end to the unnecessary proxy war between US and Russia.  We want Russia to reign in Assad’s human rights abuses, but of course not his attacks on ISIS.  In return, the US backed rebels will stop attacking the Assad led government of Syria.  The US will of course, also attack ISIS.

So what do you know?  After 6 years of death, rape, human trafficking, torture, and ISIS attacks in the US and abroad; our government has finally decided that the best course of action is to end conflicts with Assad in order to focus on our common enemy – ISIS.  I’ve been calling for this for years. Rand Paul has pushed for a declaration of war against ISIS, with very clearly defined parameters to focus solely on defeating ISIS.  Others like Pat Buchanan have called for US to stay out of it and let other groups in that region defeat ISIS.  

How long Kerry’s cease fire will last?

Jimmy Carter was right in asserting that John Kerry is a far more peaceful and practical Sec. of State than Fmr. Secretary Clinton.  While Clinton put more effort into failed attempts to topple the Assad regime, Kerry’s cease fire indicates a shift towards focusing solely defeating ISIS.  If this new agenda continues, it will mean an end to what was clearly a US proxy war with Russia in Syria.

However, Clinton may very well be the next US President, and if that is the case, she may bring us right back to the foreign policy stand of the last 6 years.  If Clinton is still determined to remove Assad, rather than focusing on fighting ISIS, it would bring us back to square one. Meanwhile, let’s observe the developments under what seems to be a very fragile ceasefire.

Copyright: serkan senturk

Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at Florida State College at Jacksonville. He conducts independent study on the American conservative movement and foreign policy. When he is...

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