Rafik Hariri Center Resident Fellow Faysal Itani writes for the the Hill on the dangers of collaborating with the Assad government to combat the threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham:
U.S. opinion-shapers and policymakers are once again calling for an alliance with Syrian President Bashar Assad against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) after it executed U.S. citizen James Foley. ISIS will execute many more people in Syria and Iraq, and quite possibly more U.S. citizens. With each death, the argument for working with Assad will resurface. While it understandably angers and worries the regime’s opponents — not least the Syrians whom the regime is killing — it cannot be dismissed out of hand. We should examine its premises and conclusions honestly and critically, while its proponents need to clearly address its moral, strategic and operational implications for the United States.
The argument’s starting premise is that the Syrian regime is in important ways preferable to ISIS. This raises the questions: preferable for whom, and why?
In ISIS territory, sects whom Islam does not consider “people of the book” must choose between conversion, fleeing or death (Christians are given the option of paying a special tax). This religious element of ISIS repression distinguishes it from the regime, which in contrast is content to torture and kill whomever it cannot subjugate, not for their religious beliefs, but for their political ones. Anyone unlucky enough to inhabit the same physical space — or to attract the attention of regime troops looking to rape and pillage — is a target. Syrian Sunnis are cursed with the same religious accident of birth and beliefs as non-Sunnis and moderate Sunnis caught in ISIS territory. The difference is they are guilty of political, rather than spiritual, crimes, namely their aspirations for a dignified life and an escape from the 40-year political and intellectual prison Assad has built.