The Arab Spring could certainly be seen as having moved on to a dark winter as dictatorships re-established themselves and protestors were met with little support against those governments that took the option of brutality over negotiation. The earliest democracy movement in the region in Iran in 2009 left protestors bloodied and disappeared without even clear verbal support from the West. The same tactic left opponents of the Syrian regime as eventual targets, as force became the standard response to citizen protests and a lack of international support. The locally based Syrian rebels became a mixture of outside groups that might have once been present to promote a future democracy, but now is likely more dangerous to the future of Syria’s citizens than any member of the Assad family.
With the U.S. and an international coalition seeking a mandate to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the painfully belated topic of helping the Syrian rebels have been placed back on the table. Support for military action in the region eventually came to help prevent minority groups in Iraq from being wiped out by ISIS and to help the Kurds maintain integrity over their territory. Actions to preserve some of the oldest cultures in the world is well justified, as if there was a way to stop one of the biggest tragedies in human history it should be committed to without haste. If there was a way to stop a horrific act, would we not act to stop it? The choice is clear in Iraq and Syria. The methods to accomplish this task, however, are mired in bad policy begetting bad information that may produce a conclusion that ignores the essential facts to produce a practical solution. Media coverage on the subject have been drawings several unsupported conclusion with facts and analysis that are either themselves confused, or are following a policy approach that lacks knowledge of the Middle East in general. As a whole, this mission has been poorly represented to the public.
In a Sept. 15 interview, policy analyst Alessandro Bruno gave a proper detailed account on the conflict and engagement by the U.S. and its allies in Syria. He pointed out that while Assad is fighting a brutal war in Syria, to attack ISIS in Syria requires the permission and support of Assad. Bruno has a point — Syria is still a sovereign state and has the authority to limit strikes in its territory. Recent talk of supporting Syrian rebels has become intermingled with discussions on ISIS threat as a policy approach coming from the Obama administration. The U.S. and Assad share a common threat, and to try to backtrack and put the Syrian rebels into the equation looks to be a disjointed policy approach. Bruno points out that the Syrian rebels likely are made up of Al Qaeda affiliates that will never give any support to the anti-ISIS coalition. Bringing back a policy that was never implemented and has failed in the process might do nothing more than to limit permissions from Assad to operate in Syria and make cooperation in Syria an impossible diplomatic goal. Bruno also details the role of Iran in the current conflict and the wider implications of the Sunni-Shia civil war.
If the U.S. and its allies enter Syria without permission and cause harm to the Syrian army, it must remember that the Syrian army has advanced anti-aircraft systems that are as modern as the SA-11 BUK-M1 that shot down the Malaysian airliner in Ukraine. Syria has older SA-6 and SA-8 systems used in the wars with the Israelis, but also has the SA-11 BUK and modern systems like the SA-19 Tunguska and SA-22 Pantsir. The S-300 system currently being exported to Syria is one of the most advanced anti-aircraft systems in the world today, and would surely shoot down many evasive fighter planes entering Syria. While ISIS likely have some shoulder launched SA-7/SA-14 type systems, the threat to aircraft and the success of a strike by U.S. and coalition planes will come mostly from Assad, and not ISIS. Since last week there has been some talk about cooperation between Assad and the anti-ISIS coalition, but a final agreement has not been reached or reported on in detail to date.
There needs to be a clear policy to address this issue, as it seems that a lack of knowledge is leading the development of the actions against ISIS at this point. While the policy as well as the reporting on the policy seems to be the main cause of public relations grief, it seems that the choice is clear in Iraq and Syria. With all adversaries and allies having the same objective against ISIS, the strategy in confronting them has only one defined conclusion, which is to act and act now.
You can find the interview with Alessandro Bruno here.