Friday, August 22, 2014

Was Putin right about Syria?

    Friday, August 22, 2014   No comments

Now, the U.S. is contemplating extending airstrikes on Islamic State militants operating in Iraq in Syria — fighters belonging to a terrorist organization that is leading the war against Assad. The Islamic State's territorial gains in Iraq and continued repression and slaughter of religious minorities there and in Syria have rightly triggered global condemnation. "I am no apologist for the Assad regime," Ryan Crocker, a former U.S. ambassador to Syria, told NPR. "But in terms of our security, [the Islamic State] is by far the greatest threat."

The irony of the moment is tragic. But to some, it doesn't come as much of a surprise. Many cautioned against the earlier insistence of the Obama administration (as well as other governments) that Assad must go, fearing what would take hold in the vacuum.

One of those critics happened to be Russian President Vladimir Putin, who warned against U.S. intervention in Syria in a New York Times op-ed last September. He wrote:

    A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.

Some of the crises Putin catalogs have worsened anyway, no matter American action or inaction. But Putin's insistence was couched in a reading of the conflict in Syria that's more cold-blooded than the view initially held by some in Washington. "Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country," Putin wrote, suggesting that the nominally secular Assad regime, despite its misdeeds, was a stabilizing force preferable to what could possibly replace it.

Putin decried the growing Islamist cadres in the Syrian rebels' ranks:

    Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria?

That's a concern very publicly shared now by U.S. and European officials, who are alarmed by the considerable presence of European nationals among the Islamic State's forces. A British jihadist who spoke with a London accent is believed to have carried out the shocking execution of American journalist James Foley this week.

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