A Question of Priority

The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Or not. Even if, like them, he wants to get rid of the Islamic State, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad can never be a friend of the United States ever again. Not to the extent that this ally of Tehran once was. The red line that Barack Obama mentioned in August 2012 was crossed before it got pulled back a year later. Several times. Assad did not hesitate to use chemical weapons against his people: 215,000 have lost their lives in four years of conflict, while 3 million Syrians have fled their country. It’s been a while since Assad has gone off the rails. Reaching out to him now would be dealing another blow to the Syrians after having let the rebels fend for themselves against government troops. And thus having facilitated the rise to power of radical Islamists.

So what purpose do the words of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry serve when he wants to resume talks with the Syrian leader? Difficult to say. And it’s not at all certain that the purpose is exactly known in Washington, where the official hardline remains that Assad must go. The only certainty is that this apparent flip flop — moderated by a spokesperson of the State Department who preferred to discuss talks with Damascus — is directly linked to the Islamic State group.

If the Assad regime were to fall, the Islamic State group would have a field day in Syria. Neither the United States, nor Europe, nor the countries in the region, nor the Russian and Iranian allies of the Damascus regime wish for that. It remains to be seen how they get rid of Assad and the Islamic State group. Impossible to solve both problems at the same time, especially since the anti-Islamic State group are not all anti-Assad. They must then prioritize. That’s what United States did by launching air strikes against jihadist positions in Syria. Assad didn’t lift a finger. And that’s because he’s benefiting from them. He even admitted that he’s being updated about all the flight operations through a mediator. Something looking like talks has already begun. But to eliminate the Islamic State group from Syrian territory, they will need a more honest agreement from Damascus. That’s what Washington probably wants to negotiate, not knowing how to make it happen. Because once talks begin, it will be more complicated to flip flop (once more) and fire Assad.

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