The ISIS debate


Politics everywhere

Russian President Vladimir Putin has emerged as quite the headline grabbing statesman owing to his surprising war on Da’ish lately. The West, spearheaded by America, clearly took too long to decide which side of the fence to stand on, and allowed ISIS not only to take root in Iraq and the Levant, but also aided in no small manner in its phenomenal rise. First it was fine with its Saudi allies funnelling and funding al Qaeda like groups in Syria, just as they had done in Libya, to destabilise the Assad regime in Damascus. The exercise was meant to serve a dual purpose; weaken the anti-GCC and simultaneously anti-Israeli axis of Iran-Syria-Hezbollah.

But that, ironically, contradicted with Washington’s declared support for the government in Baghdad – which, again ironically, just happened to be of a pro-Iranian Shi’a variety. This cleavage became particularly pronounced after ISIS overran Mosul, and more of northern Iraq, last year. Even then, it was only after ISIS executed an American national that the Obama administration, very reluctantly, entered the war. That effort, of course, was limited to calculated air strikes. However, over the course of much of the last year, it became strikingly obvious that the western air campaign did not have much of an effect on ISIS.

The Assad regime survived, meantime, because of the support it received from Iran, Russia and indeed Hezbollah. But now President Putin has increased his stakes in the game. He has requested and received permission from the Russian parliament to take the war to ISIS, which is currently deeply troubling Moscow’s best warm water port friend in Arabia. And now that Russian jets are pounding rebel positions in Syria, with a ground offensive apparently also in the offing, there is surprising apprehension once again on the part of Washington and its friends. Suddenly, after years, the old Free Syrian Army has once again come into the news – allegedly on the receiving end of Russian bombardment. It seems the US still wants to seem politically stronger, even though it has lost the plot in the Middle East. A better strategy for Obama, as he bows out of office, would instead be to share ISIS specific intel with Russia, and take the fight to the enemy as part of his greater legacy.