by Kyle Orton
"Which leaves the apparent dichotomy between IS and Assad. Put aside that Assad provided shelter, training camps, logistical and other support for IS during the entire time Western forces were present in Iraq. Put aside, too, how many foreign fighters arrived at Damascus International Airport and were then moved by Assad’s military-intelligence service to IS safe-houses overseen by this same intelligence apparatus in eastern Syria, before being set loose as suicide bombers on Iraq. It will never be possible to calculate how many hundreds of Western soldiers and thousands of Iraqi civilians would now be alive but for Assad’s support for IS. This wasn’t restricted to Iraq, either. U.S. courts found Assad liable for IS’s regional terrorism in the middle of the last decade.
What has Assad done to counter IS since it emerged in Syria? Very little. Assad said the opposition were terrorists, and then worked very hard to make it so. At the beginning of the uprising, the release of waves of Islamist prisoners was intended to stain a peaceful opposition with sectarianism and violence. “The regime did not just open the door to the prisons and let these extremists out, it facilitated them in their … creation of armed brigades,” as one defector explained. Among those freed at this early stage was Amr al-Absi (Abu al-Atheer), one of IS’s most senior leaders and a crucial actor in the formation of the caliphate.
For an entire year after IS began seizing territory, Assad left them alone, despite his entire war strategy by that point being built around using airstrikes to make life in rebel-held areas unliveable so that no attractive alternative government took hold to which people could defect. It’s not difficult to understand why Assad allowed IS to remain and expand: “letting black-clad terrorists run around … crucifying and beheading people, made for great propaganda,” as Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan write in ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror. During the 2014 rebel offensive against IS, Assad bombed the rebels. That summer, the regime and IS assaulted the rebels in tandem in Aleppo. In June 2015, during a replay of the joint assault on Aleppo, the U.S. Embassy in Syria protested that Assad was “aiding extremists against [the] Syrian population” and not only avoiding IS “but actively seeking to bolster their position”. This had been happening for some time, but, as a rebel spokesman noted, “It was never this blatant”."
Trump will do what Obama is doing; letting Assad and the Russians fight the rebels, while leaving ISIS well alone.