While the world focuses on ISIS’s barbaric videos, the butcher of Syria is still battering his country. And, as a new profile in Time illustrates, the two nominal enemies are often neutral and even outright supportive of one another, in matters as significant as oil purchases and bombing decisions or as low-grade as cell-tower maintenence. The conclusions are stark:
Assad does not see ISIS as his primary problem, the businessman says. “The regime fears the Free Syrian Army and the Nusra Front, not ISIS. They [the FSA and Nusra] state their goal is to remove the President. But ISIS doesn’t say that. They have never directly threatened Damascus.” As the businessman notes, the strikes on ISIS targets are minimal. “If the regime were serious about getting rid of ISIS, they would have bombed Raqqa by now. Instead they bomb other cities, where the FSA is strong.” That said, the businessman does not believe that the regime has a formal relationship with ISIS, just a pragmatic one. “The more powerful ISIS grows, the more they are useful for the regime. They make America nervous, and the Americans in turn see the regime as a kind of bulwark against ISIS.”
For the time being, Bashar Assad is probably less concerned about reconquering the whole of his country than about avoiding the fate of Qaddafi or Saddam Hussein. In that context, ISIS is useful to him: it’s in his interest, in the words of Lenin, to heighten the contradictions. One unnamed Western diplomat says that strategy is succeeding: “The way it’s going now, it’s a matter of months, not even a year, that the moderate opposition is so weakened that it won’t be a factor anymore. So in just a few months from now the regime will be able to achieve its strategic goal of forcing the world to choose between Damascus and [ISIS’s] black flags.”For the time being, the enemy of our enemy is happy to be its friend.