At the time where there is so much talk about extremists and moderates, I thought a couple of definitions might be in order to help us clarify the challenges ahead.
The current drive by the Obama administration to unite Sunni and Shia powers in the region against ISIS, the group that everyone supposedly hate in equal terms, will not succeed, because by ignoring the atrocities that Assad and Hezbollah have been perpetrating in Syria before ISIS showed up on the scene, and because both are pillars of the Shia axis in the region, the administration, with its suborn refusal to act against Assad coupled with its current single-minded focus on ISIS, will be perceived as supporting the Shia Axis. The ongoing negotiations with Iran and the reconciliatory tone that many administration officials have assumed in her regard will strengthen that impression.
Personally, I think that mass atrocities and beheadings is ISIS’ way of negotiating with the Americans over the issue of recognition of their de facto state. Because without recognition, even if unofficial, the state that ISIS is creating means little. With unofficial recognition, ISIS can make billions rather than millions of dollars from the sales of oil under their control, even if they have to sell it on the down-and-low. Recognition also allows ISIS the time it needs to consolidate its hold on the territories currently under its control, and to govern.
The chorus for re-legitimating Assad continues to grow bigger and louder, with two more experts joining the fray through an op-ed in the New York Times that appeared today. The two experts, Julien Barnes-Dacey, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, and Daniel Levy, the director of the council’s Middle East program, argue that: