PARIS – Forget principles and morality. Forget, or try to forget, the quarter-million deaths for which Bashar al-Assad is responsible, directly or indirectly, since choosing to respond with violence to a peaceful uprising of the Syrian people. Set aside the fact that Assad’s forces have caused 10-15 times more civilian deaths thus far than the Islamic State, whose horrific execution videos have overshadowed the Syrian dictator’s invisible massacres. But even if you can purge all of this from your thoughts, a policy for Syria that posits Assad as an “alternative” to the Islamic State is simply not viable.
Assad, after all, literally unleashed the Islamic State’s current savagery: in May 2011, he released hundreds of Islamic radicals from prison, quickly supplying the infant group with fighters and leaders. He then methodically shelled positions held by moderate rebels, while no less methodically sparing the Islamic State’s stronghold in Raqqa. And then, in mid-2014, he allowed Iraqi elements of the Islamic State to find sanctuary in eastern Syria.
In other words, Assad created the monster that he is now pretending to fight. Is all that not a little much for a potential ally? Can working with Assad possibly provide a sound basis for what is supposed to be a common effort?
The bottom line is that Assad has no interest in winning. The man who now holds himself up as civilization’s last bulwark against the Islamic State is also the last man who wants to see it eliminated.