Since the United States started getting serious about military action against ISIS, politicians and policymakers have worried that such an initiative would play into the hands of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In his speech last night, President Obama was careful to stress that strikes against the group would not in any way imply that the United States was allied with the Syrian government. “In the fight against ISIL, we cannot rely on an Assad regime that terrorizes its own people—a regime that will never regain the legitimacy it has lost,” the president said. Instead, he said, Washington would step up its efforts to strengthen the Syrian opposition.
But, in somewhat trolling fashion, the Syrian government today welcomed its new allies to the fight, with Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad telling NBC News that his government has “no reservations” about American strikes against ISIS in Syria:
“When it comes to terrorism, we should forget our differences… and forget all about the past,” Mekdad said. “It takes two to tango…We are ready to talk.”
Of course, it’s fairly apparent that the Syrian government avoided attacking ISIS for months and began bombing its positions only after the international community saw the group as a major threat. U.S. officials are almost certainly not going to sit down with Assad’s government, but my guess is that as this operation escalates, we’re going to hear a lot more from the regime about its “partners” in the war on terror, the Americans and Europeans.
Another interesting wrinkle is the ramifications of this Amerian operation for Assad’s backers in Moscow. Russian Ambassador to the U.N. Vitaly Churkin said today that if the United States bombed Syrian territory “without the Syrian government’s consent,” it would “complicate international operations and will pose problems for Russia as well as for many other countries respecting international law, including China.”
But Russia may be the only country bothered by Obama’s campaign. It appears the Syrian government isn’t going to object too much to the operation. China, which has concerns about its own citizens cooperating with ISIS, seems likely to offer quiet support. Even Iran seems finally to have found an American war in the Middle East it can get behind.
This is, after all, something fairly different than previous U.S. interventions. The goal is not to help rebels overthrow an autocratic government, but to preserve the status quo in the face of a new destabilizing force. The “sovereignty caucus” of autocratic powers that opposed previous U.S. operations, of which Russia was the most vocal member, may not exist this time around.