ISIS: POLITICS, WAR AND BEDFELLOWS
By Al Emid
Author Journalist Broadcaster
Chapter 23 –
The Glamourous Life of an Author
Politics makes strange bedfellows according to a quote from a near-forgotten American essayist and Shakespeare intimated that war made for strange bedfellows in some of his historical plays. British wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill certainly understood that concept and in a sense he had the twentieth century patent on it.
Politics and war make for very strange alliances indeed – and very pragmatic alliances and some recent developments in the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria — ISIS — sharply bring home that truism. The United States looks to enemies-perhaps-temporarily-uneasy friends to help contain the crisis which has pitted ISIS against the U. S. led- coalition that has not to date resolved the crisis.
Perhaps the most striking of these real or potential turnabouts originated with former Central Intelligence Agency Director David Petraeus. He has urged the administration of President Barack Obama to persuade fighters from the Al-Nusra group to join the U.S.-led coalition in fighting ISIS. One can imagine the number of raised eyebrows in Washington at the concept.
Depending on one’s perspective one can see Petraeus’ plan as either a consummate bold stroke or an act of desperation. Let us remember that the Al-Nusra Front operates as Al Qaeda’s franchise in Syria and that in June it released a 43-minute propaganda video commemorating the 9/11 attacks and suggesting that the fact that Americans were ‘arrogant’ played a large part in that tragedy.
During a CNN interview Petraeus explained his logic as one of convenience for disenchanted Al-Nusra fighters: “(But) some individual fighters, and perhaps some elements, within Nusra today have undoubtedly joined for opportunistic rather than ideological reasons: they saw Nusra as a strong horse, and they haven’t seen a credible alternative, as the moderate opposition has yet to be adequately resourced.”
Put more succinctly he suggested that the anti-ISIS coalition offer disenchanted Al-Nusra fighters an appealing alternative and an impressive show of strength. To make Petraeus’ plan work, negotiators would have to overcome a history of antagonism between the U.S. and Syria and that would require some spectacular diplomacy. Last week, the Syrian Air Force reportedly bombed the new Syrian Force, according to CNN. That did not provide a promising start to negotiations. Meanwhile, the U. S. has decreased support for groups fighting the Syrian government and that provided another unpromising start. According to the CNN report some of those groups feel abandoned by Washington.
Meanwhile, the U. S. simply does not have the commitment of forces and dollars in Iraq that it had previously and therefore its negotiating position and attractiveness at the bargaining table seem much less than in the days when it had 100,000 troops and a near-blank check there.
Petraeus’s own background confuses the issue even further. As the most iconic American military leader of his generation with successes in Iraq and Afghanistan his record led President Obama to appoint him to head the Central Intelligence Agency. He would have had absolute credibility in anything he proposed except for his spectacular fall from grace after accusations of providing ultra-top-secret information to his mistress-biographer.
In another twist, President Barack Obama seems to have backed off somewhat from his earlier calls for regime change in Syria – a euphemism for the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The target of regime change has morphed into a kind of regime preservation since Assad fights ISIS as well as the Syrian rebels. The Obama administration’s Syrian policy – to the extent that it has one – appears to focus more on defeating ISIS than on removing Assad and any question of confronting Assad appears to have been at least temporarily consigned to a back burner, in hopes that he will at least continue fighting ISIS.
It seems like light years ago that Obama pointedly called for regime change. “The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way,” Obama said in a written statement, as reported in the Washington Post and other publications. “For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.”
The August 18, 2011 edition of the Washington Post included an assessment from an unnamed Washington official who declared that the White House is “certain Assad is on his way out.” Just over four years later, Assad clings to power and appears unlikely to head for the exit, reprieved by the ISIS crisis. He may, as appears entirely possible, survive to continue leading a much-reduced Syria with ISIS retaining all or part of the Syrian territory that it now controls, perhaps with the rebels remaining in control of all or part the territory they hold.
A third potential bedfellows arrangement necessary for prosecuting the war appears chancy at time of writing. British Prime Minister David Cameron wants to join the air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria but the likely election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Opposition Labour Party may scuttle the plan. While ruling parties and opposition parties in Britain and elsewhere have cobbled together bedfellows arrangements in past, they may not manage it in this case as Corbyn is an avowed anti-war campaigner. He opposed the 2003 Iraq war and has expressed unremitting opposition to Britain’s participation.
Although Cameron has a slim majority in Parliament he may not win a vote on air strikes due to the opposition of some members of his own caucus and might need Labor Party support for the ultimate British Parliament bedfellows relationship. If Corbyn does become chieftain of the Labour Party, Cameron may not get the votes he needs from the Labour members.
Cameron has to avoid the humiliation he suffered in 2013 when rebels in his own Tory caucus joined with the Labour party to defeat his plan to launch missile strikes against the Assad regime. However, this time around, public outrage over the current refugee crisis emergency, resulting partially from the ISIS crisis might yet lead to some rethinking by those otherwise opposed and lead to an uneasy arrangement