U.S. and other Western governments should reconsider the potential choice to side with the al-Assad regime, which has the blood of thousands on its hands
The extent and gravity of the terrorist activities of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) have finally received some attention from the U.S. and EU. While U.S. President Barack Obama set out a road map for fighting the organization, European governments have pledged support to U.S.-led counter-terrorism efforts.
An article by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier that appeared in a Turkish newspaper earlier this week provides valuable insights into the West's delayed response to terrorist activities: "We must not think that we can isolate ourselves from the chaos of the world simply by providing humanitarian aid. Our welfare and security depends on our unique political and economic ties to the rest of the world. We will be affected by the downfall of a regime anywhere in the world, especially if such developments occur somewhere close to Europe's borders."
The West's renewed interest in regional problems due to the ISIS threat, however, does not send a strong message about questioning the approaches to which Steinmeier points out in his article. After all, ISIS terrorism in Iraq, which has been going on for a few months, does not represent the only factor that disturbs the socalled peace in the Middle East. This terrorist organization had been active throughout the civil war in Bashar al-Assad's Syria when they butchered hundreds of Shiite and Kurdish civilians. Against the backdrop of such atrocities, Turkey's efforts to raise awareness about the gravity of the situation received support from neither the U.S. nor European governments.
Make no mistake - we are well aware that the West has developed an interest in the conflict only after ISIS operatives had begun targeting the Christian community in Iraq. You might think that late is better than never, but proposed steps to curb the power of ISIS are unlikely to produce the desired results short of a serious reconsideration of the discriminatory perspective that has long plagued Western public opinion.
Today, the emerging international coalition seeks to partner with local authorities including the central government of Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and forces of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) in addition to the Assad regime. The fact that the international community turns to Damascus to take down ISIS, whose terrorist activities provided vital support to the regime during the civil war, alone attests to the widespread failure to analyze the situation on the ground accurately.
The driving force behind ISIS terrorism, to be sure, is not Islam but Baathist-inspired secular dictatorships across the region. These illegitimate governments, most notably the Assad regime in Syria, have long oppressed the Sunni majority in their respective countries to generate sympathy with ISIS. It goes without saying that Assad, the region's top dictator, played a greater role than any other tyrant in creating the monster that is ISIS.
Anyone who has followed the Syrian civil war closely enough would know that the Assad regime supported ISIS operatives on the ground in their struggle against moderate opposition forces. The dictator, at the time, had managed to kill two birds with one stone: sponsoring ISIS activities at once helped weaken his opponents and allowed Assad to send a strong message to the West about fundamentalists flooding into the Middle East if his secular regime were to fall.
One example in particular would best attest the above assessment. During the initial period of the Syrian civil war, opposition forces were roughly 20 kilometers away from the capital, which at the time encouraged the U.S. State Department to support them. It was exactly then that ISIS, for no good reason, engaged in a bloody massacre of civilians to raise questions about the legitimacy of the Syrian opposition in Washington and elsewhere. Unable to receive much-needed support from the international community, the moderate opposition found itself unable to deny accountability for the tragedy that ISIS and local al-Qaida operatives had perpetrated. The event resulted in the loss of a great opportunity for the Syrian civil war, which has since triggered enormous chaos across the region, to come to a timely end.
Today, the U.S. and other Western governments remain preoccupied with the potential long-term implications of providing financial and military aid to local partners for regional stability. Instead, they should seriously reconsider their predisposition to siding with the Assad regime, which has the blood of hundreds of thousands of people on its hands, and the great harm such a move would do to the prospect of peace in the Middle East.