Source: The Wall Street Journal – by Garry Kasparov (Dancing With Dictators Against Islamic State)
The U.S. and its allies can defeat ISIS. Joining with Putin, Assad and Iran’s regime would be immoral.
Three days after coordinated terror attacks in Paris killed at least 129 people and put the lie to President Obama’s recent claim that Islamic State was “contained,” Mr. Obama took to the podium on Monday. Speaking from Antalya, Turkey, where he was attending a G-20 meeting, he threw the full weight of his rhetoric behind solidarity with France and behind the French military response against Islamic State, or ISIS. But he offered no policy changes. In other words, once again America is leading from behind.
Mr. Obama’s remarks in Turkey came after he sat down for an impromptu discussion with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, who has shipped troops and military hardware to Syria to prop up the Bashar Assad regime and to produce desperately needed new war propaganda back home. A suggestion gaining currency in recent days—encouraged by the Putin-Obama photo op—that the U.S. and NATO cooperate with Mr. Putin against ISIS is ludicrous on many levels. The most obvious one being that Russian forces aren’t in Syria to fight ISIS.
Even after the death of 224 people—most of them Russian tourists—in the Oct. 31 Metrojet crash in Egypt that was almost certainly an ISIS terror bombing, Mr. Putin remains focused on his goals. He is in Syria to help Iran and Mr. Assad destroy any legitimate alternatives to the status quo. What is that status quo? The Assad regime and its Iranian backers controlling the region by force.
The Kremlin also wants to maintain a stream of Syrian refugees pouring into Europe. The migrant crisis is useful to Mr. Putin in two ways. It distracts European attention from his continuing military campaign against Ukraine. And the flood of refugees will enhance the fortunes of far-right European parties that openly embrace Mr. Putin, increasing pressure on the European Union to lift sanctions against Russia. If one of the terrorists in the Paris attack slipped into Europe with Syrian refugees, so much the better.
President Obama and other Western leaders desperate to resolve the conflict in Syria should keep in mind that the enemy of your enemy can also be your enemy. For the U.S. and the West, allying with Iran, Mr. Putin’s Russia and the Assad regime would be morally repugnant, strategically disastrous and entirely unnecessary. The immorality of such an alliance is self-evident: The U.S. officially designates Iran and Syria as state sponsors of terror.
The argument in favor of such an alliance cites the World War II precedent that the Allies joined Stalin to defeat Hitler. The comparison is inapt. First, NATO doesn’t need the help of Mr. Putin or Iran to defeat ISIS; NATO simply needs the resolve to do it. Second, such an alliance would only undermine the effort. Seeing the U.S. working with Mr. Assad and the Shiites of Iran—who essentially control Baghdad, too—would further convince the region’s Sunnis that they have no choice but to turn to ISIS for protection.
Americans above all should realize the importance of the Sunnis. The 2007 U.S. military surge in Iraq was so successful because it included the protection and recruitment of Sunni tribes to fight Sunni extremists. The Obama administration’s hasty exit from Iraq left the Sunnis at the mercy of a hostile Shiite government in Baghdad. Conditions were made ripe for the rise of Islamic State.
Even with France’s stepped-up bombing campaign against ISIS in Syria, and U.S. vows to intensify its own bombing effort, the fact remains: You can’t win hearts and minds from 30,000 feet. The problem with an air-power-only offensive is not only that you don’t always kill the right people, but that you can’t protect anyone. The people of Syria and Iraq need the protection and stability that will starve ISIS of its main source of recruits. No bombs, whether American or French, can provide that. Airstrikes will inspire as many ISIS volunteers as they kill, while also creating countless new refugees. Destroying infrastructure makes the refugees’ eventual return less likely.
“Boots on the ground” is the phrase that must never be mentioned, but mention it we must. Anything less than a major U.S. and NATO-led ground offensive against ISIS will be a guarantee of continued failure and more terror attacks in the West. It is immoral to continue putting civilians—Syrian and Western alike—instead of soldiers on the front line against terrorists.
Pacifying the region and protecting its people from the predation of terrorists and brutal dictatorships is the only path left. It is also the only way to ever repatriate the millions of refugees the Syrian civil war has created. We must support these people now, not watch from afar as they are slaughtered and enslaved, paying attention only when the horror makes its way into our capitals. Our fate is tied to theirs.
Heartfelt expressions of solidarity and candlelight vigils for the victims won’t stop ISIS unless that goodwill is turned to action. Playing defense is hopeless. The world today is too small, the threats too big. The only solution is to fight the problem at its source. You cannot have liberté, égalité, fraternité without sécurité.
Mr. Kasparov is the chairman of the New York-based Human Rights Foundation and the author of “Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped” (PublicAffairs, 2015).