walter russell mead peter berger lilia shevtsova adam garfinkle andrew a. michta
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The Enemy of My Enemy
Moderate Rebels Caught Between ISIS and Assad

As the extremist Islamists of ISIS have prospered in Iraq, they also continue to advance in Syria—but not against the forces of Bashar al-Assad. Instead, both are moving to crush the moderate rebels that originally started the uprising there. ISIS is leaving Assad free to fight the rebels in the north, around Aleppo, while advancing against them in the south. As a result, the Financial Times reports, moderate forces are “close to collapse“:

A multi-pronged offensive in Syria by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (known as Isis) is threatening to bring down what is left of the country’s original rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Opposition forces fighting to end four decades of Assad family rule are watching territory they seized being over-run not only by the army and Isis, but even their longtime ally Jabhat al-Nusra. The Syrian al-Qaeda branch, once keen to partner with rebels, appears to be planning its own Islamic enclave as the country’s opposition looks close to collapse.

“The regime is beating them in Aleppo in the north. Isis has taken Deir Ezzor in the east. And Nusra is gaining strength in Deraa to the south,” says Syrian commentator Hassan Hassan. “There is more need than ever to get together – they feel an existential threat from Isis and Nusra.”

Moderate groups are attempting to band together to confront the threat, but without powerful international backers, a coherent ideology, or unified leadership, they are at a serious disadvantage in the fight against both the Iran-backed Assad forces and the extremists of ISIS.

During the run-up to the Russian Revolution, Lenin used to say, “the worse, the better”: If moderate forces were unable to influence, or resist, the Czar, the radical Bolsheviks had a better chance of success. It’s an old lesson, and one hardliners on both the Assad and ISIS sides take to heart. And despite their nominal antagonism, evidence suggests that both have worked together before. Now, as both ISIS and Assad gain strength, the moderates appear to be on their last legs.

This was all too predictable. And for the United States in Syria, the worse, the worse.

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  • Pete

    Please … don’t dare propose bring the ‘moderate’ rebels here.

  • FriendlyGoat

    The “enemy-of-my-enemy” stuff does not seem to work for moderates in Islamic places. Being against Assad is not enough to satisfy either Isis or Jabhat al-Nusra. I presume that moderates in other places are taking note of how this works with Islamic radicals.

    • Breif2

      That the extremists will turn on you once you’ve jointly overthrown The Power That Be is so predictable you would have to be an idiot not to expect it. But that they are doing so now is indeed indicative.

      • FriendlyGoat

        Yes, it’s indicative that Islam is a dangerous mess because it always contains people—of various degrees of delusion—- whose admitted goal is domination of everyone else because of false prophecy. (No, I did not go to your link. If you can explain something, explain it yourself.)

  • gabrielsyme

    Entirely predictable, and, at least from the point of view of Assad, entirely rational. From a strategic point of view, the rise of Islamist groups was always going to be a consequence of the Syrian rebellion. The only sensible policy from the very beginning was to starve the rebellion of funding and external support, thus allowing Assad to reassert control.

    Even the “moderates” have proven exceedingly happy to target minorities, especially Alawites. One hates to say this, but Iran and Russia have done the world a favour by sparing the West the chance to see the genocidal consequences of a rebel victory in Syria.

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