Not so very long ago, the specter of Russian-led Soviet troops crossing their borders was reason for alarm in the Western world: Hungary, Czechoslovakia, even Chechnya and Afghanistan.
The West – in particular the US – supported the democratically inclined satellites and underlings. Until it became obvious not to – for example, Washington’s volte face regarding the Taliban, which moved in perception from being freedom fighters to terrorists within a 20-year span. Moscow, on the other hand, always viewed the religious group as a threat to stability, a belief that survived the collapse of Communism and has turned out to be pretty accurate.
Syria is a bit different: both the West and Putin believe ISIS must be destroyed. And even Putin is on record as saying he believes Bashar al-Assad needs to leave his post as President of the near-demolished nation state. The questions is timing: do you get a handle on ISIS first, supporting Assad and the Syrian Army in doing so, or do you support “good rebels” –those who began opposing Bashar in 2001 during the Arab Spring uprising – so you get rid of the dictator and then go to bat with ISIS?
Arms Have No Morals
Anyone who has had any war experience on the ground (as a combatant or a reporter, for example) will attest to the virtual impossibility of actually telling a good rebel from a bad one, and how frequently sides can change when the going gets rough. As for sending in guns – they have no allegiance. And they do not always find their way into the hands for which they were originally destined.
Europeans take a more pragmatic approach. They understand that though the Arab Springs may have originated in an outcry for democratic reform, the wreckage in which some countries still exist is fertile breeding ground in which fundamentalist terrorist such as ISIS can take root. So, while Western consensus is anti-Bachar on the human rights/political front, they are nonetheless fighting the same enemy: ISIS. That fight is taking place largely in Syria, and Bachar will stay in power as long as ISIS remains undefeated. So the sotto voce sentiment in Europe would advocate talking directly with Bachar, hoping that leaders in Washington will finally come around to their logic.
1. Recognize that ISIS is a common enemy of the West and join forces with Bashar (and maybe get Turkey into the group) to attack their positions within Syria so to get the upper hand;
2. Offer this aid on the condition Bachar stop bombing civilians. This should start to curb the steady stream of refugees feeing the war.
3. Negotiate with Bachar and his team for a “regime change.” This means some fancy maneuvering to make sure Bachar’s secret service and own militia don’t get to him first.
Putin apparently didn’t get to put this ides across to US President Obama at the UN last month, but he might have been able to get through to Bachar when the latter actually left his country to fly to Moscow for the day last week – ostensibly to ”thank” the Russian president for his support! (Read comments from Moscow towards the end of this article)
The visit could be an important signal. Leaders don’t leave their countries during war times except for a very good reason, and usually when their power is on the wane.