Rafik Hariri Center Senior Fellow Frederic Hof writes for the New Republic on why, in combating the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, the United States must make clear that it is not siding with the Assad regime:
In an interview with the Associated Press on Monday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem offered a remarkable, if dubious revelation: that Washington sent three separate messages to Damascus 24 hours in advance of the September 23 airstrikes on Islamic State (IS) targets in Syria, each one saying, “We are not after the Syrian army or the Syrian government.” One hopes that Mr. Muallem’s truthfulness in this matter is consistent with the usual standards of Bashar al-Assad’s regime. For if the supposed messages were as described, they would have been read in Damascus as a green light for the continuation of the regime’s barrel bombing, artillery shelling, and starvation sieging of areas held by mainstream Syrian rebels—the same rebels designated by President Obama as the ground component of American-led military operations against IS in Syria.
Muallem was probably either dissembling or misleading. A proper message to Damascus would have been unambiguously curt: “Coalition aircraft will soon commence operations against ISIL in Syria. Any Syrian government anti-aircraft installations detected in target acquisition mode against coalition aircraft will be engaged decisively. Any Syrian government aircraft detected in the skies during coalition operations will be considered hostile.” Regardless of what was actually said, it’s unthinkable that whatever message may have been conveyed to the regime would have been worded consistent with Mr. Muallem’s description.