Writing on his blog “From Homs to Istanbul”, Aboud Dandachi comments on the recent insurgent takeover of the Iraqi city of Mosul.
Dandachi, a fervent opponent of the Assad regime who is now displaced in Istanbul, says the events offer the unwelcome alternative of the Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham to Syria.
What has brought Dandachi’s country to this tragic dilemma? “Two men — Bashar al-Assad..and Barack Obama”.
Even though while in Tartous I wasn’t taking much of a role in the revolution, I never stopped hoping fervently that Bashar Assad and his regime would lose the conflict, be overthrown, and we’d all live happily ever after in a post-Assad utopia. How that might happen without terrible consequences first befalling my sheltered existence in Tartous wasn’t something I much liked to dwell on.
But in August of that year, I almost very nearly made the decision that however bad the regime was, it was preferable to the growing menace of the alternative. If Bashar won the war, it would be a bad Syria, an oppressive Syria, the police state to end all police states, but I’d still have a state to belong to.
What could scare me so much, someone who had seen the worst atrocities of the war to date committed on my home city of Homs by the regime that I was now starting to seriously consider, if not supporting, then definitely not undermining.
That would be ISIS, the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq, a hardline Islamist group founded by Al-Qaeda members, and which in 2011 had been almost extinct in the Levant, but which had by August 2013 taken over the provincial capital of Raqqa and created a state in all but name stretching from Anbar in Iraq, along the Euphrates up to the Turkish border.
At the time, the full scale of the group’s collusion with the Assad regime was not yet well known, and it was perceived as an independent Al-Qaeda group with dreams of a 21st century caliphate, which they started to impose on Raqqa.
And the stories coming out of Raqqa were very scary indeed. Hand chopping, beheadings, whiping, the banning of music and barber shops. The last straw for me was the kidnapping by ISIS of father Paolo Dall’Oglio, an Italian Jesuit priest who had lived in Syria for decades before being expelled by the Assad regime.
Father Paolo had returned to Raqqa to try to negotiate a release of rebel prisoners from ISIS. In that group’s eyes, Father Paolo’s vocation was reason enough to condemn him to death.
Fast forward a year later to the summer of 2014, and the group’s fortunes have only improved with their conquest of much of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. With a population of almost two million people, Mosul would be the largest population center to date to fall under the control of ISIS.
An astonishing reversal of fortunes for the group in the space of just several years, blame and or credit for which ultimately lie at the feet of two men; Bashar Assad, who released ISIS leaders from regime prisons in 2011, and whose forces have always refrained from hitting the group’s headquarters or positions even as it conquered more territory.
And Barack Obama, who in addition to imposing a blanket embargo on any military aid to moderate groups who could have taken on ISIS, had adopted a “Don’t do stupid shit” foreign policy which in practical terms translated into “how much deeper can I stick my head in the sand to maintain an isolationist-at-all-cost policy towards everything in the world”.
Superpowers always have options at their disposal short of full scale war, and ways can be found to support and strengthen moderate Syrian rebels without also aiding JAN, who often share the same battlefield as more moderate groups.
If “dont do stupid shit” is indeed the mantra by which Obama runs his foreign policy, then by now even he has to admit that imposing a blanket embargo on military aid to the Syrian moderate groups has proven to be some very stupid shit. America’s regional allies that have wanted to support the rebels have been prevented from doing so by the Obama arms embargo.
Obama is a man incapable of taking hard decisions, decisions that may not have perfect outcomes. Almost nothing in politics has a perfect outcome, and the politician who waits for the perfect set of circumstances will be perpetually paralyzed into inaction.
“Don’t do stupid shit”, Sure, but better to do shit that’s half stupid than to do nothing and have to clean up a whole lot of shit in Mosul.