Things seem to be on the verge of coming full circle in US relations with Syria. Early in the Obama administration, the ever sagacious Secretary of State Hillary Clinton referred to Syrian President Bahar al-Assad as a "reformer" before demanding his ouster. Now it seems that Obama has made the decision that the United States must cooperate with Syria in order to suppress ISIS/ISIL.
Two former top military and counterterrorism officials said on Sunday that the United States should be prepared to start working with the very dictator that the Obama administration said must leave office because of the humanitarian atrocities he has committed.
Appearing on ABC's "This Week," General John Allen, who commanded the Afghanistan War, and Richard Clarke, a former top counterterrorism adviser, said that the effort to stem and ultimately kill the Islamic State (ISIS) would require some form of partnership with Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Allen was less committal about such a partnership, noting that the Assad government had fed ISIS' rise with its brutal campaign to crack down on insurgents that had radicalized sections of the Sunni population. Still, he conceded, for an operation against ISIS to be successful, it would require a Syria component and an informal, if not entirely unsaid, collaboration with Assad.
This is probably a trial balloon for a policy shift. As few in Congress outside of John McCain have been enthusiastic about Obama's attempted overthrow of Assad and many have expressed concern about ISIS/ISIL it is likely to meet little resistance.
This should be viewed in context of a statement by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey earlier this month:
“This is an organization that has an apocalyptic end-of-days strategic vision that will eventually have to be defeated,” the chairman, Gen. Martin Dempsey, said in his most expansive public remarks on the crisis since American airstrikes began in Iraq. “Can they be defeated without addressing that part of the organization that resides in Syria? The answer is no.”
But both General Dempsey and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who appeared beside him during a Pentagon news conference, deflected questions about whether the United States military would pursue the Sunni militants from Iraq into Syria, an issue that many defense experts say lies at the heart any attempt to defeat ISIS.
While many in the media have interpreted this as Dempsey advocating US military operations in Syria, he clearly doesn't say so and could just as plausibly be acknowledging the new direction the administration is taking.
The UK Independent is reporting that the United States may already be assisting the Assad regime by providing them with intelligence that allows them to strike at ISIS/ISIL leadership targets:
The US has already covertly assisted the Assad government by passing on intelligence about the exact location of jihadi leaders through the BND, the German intelligence service, a source has told The Independent. This may explain why Syrian aircraft and artillery have been able on occasion to target accurately rebel commanders and headquarters.
Adding to the confusion is the fact that Obama has requested in excess of $500 million in covert aid to "moderate" rebels fighting Assad. A request Congress still has to act upon.
One can only say that if Obama had exhibited the same mental agility that is allowing him to provide aid to Assad in his dealings with Iraq and Afghanistan five years ago, the world would be a much safer place.