WHY DEFEATING ISIS MEANS DOING AWAY WITH ASSAD

Daily Sabah
February 25, 2015 

The recovery of Kobani by Kurdish forces backed by airstrikes from the U.S.-led coalition, the first concrete victory halting the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Syria, was a cause for celebration throughout Syria, Turkey, Iraq and beyond. But for those interested in the long-term stability and prosperity of the country and region, the victory rings hollow. The symbolism of this triumph over ISIS is no doubt significant. Its relevance in the broader scheme of the fight to regain peace in Syria, however, is less clear. This is particularly true when you consider that in the current scheme of U.S. foreign policy in Syria, a win for the U.S. and its allies against ISIS is also a win for Syrian President Bashar Assad.

In the wake of the expulsion of ISIS from Kobani, many observers have concluded that the U.S. may be willing to accept working with Assad, despite his long record of cruelties committed against his own people. Even Assad himself, in an interview with Foreign Affairs, seems optimistic that a partnership between his regime and the United States against ISIS may grow into a closer relationship with time. However, those who believe collaboration with Assad is the only means to secure peace in Syria and throughout the region fail to acknowledge the central role Assad has played in destabilizing the country and perpetuating the conflict.

Assad has repeatedly demonstrated his willingness to resort to torturing, killing, starving and otherwise brutalizing his own people in the name of remaining in power. These heinous acts severely weakened the country, creating the conditions that led to the emergence of ISIS in Syria in the first place and allowing the group to gain a foothold. Some have argued against a change of power in Damascus, claiming that it would create a power vacuum that ISIS would quickly move to fill. However, the same can be said of Assad - every defeat ISIS suffers only serves to strengthen Assad's illegitimate grip on power. Any strategy to regain peace in Syria that exclusively focuses its energy on defeating ISIS while ignoring Assad's power-hungry and destructive influence on the country has no hope of resolving the conflict in the long term.

To date, entities proposing solutions to the ongoing violence in Syria have focused largely on the short term. The exception is Turkey, which has watched closely as the Syrian conflict has unfolded along its 877-kilometer border with the country. The threat of civil war and extremism spilling onto Turkish soil has caused it to adopt a pragmatic stance in considering how to bring lasting peace and stability to the region. From improving intelligence-sharing capacities with its Western allies to helping train moderate Syrian opposition forces within Turkey and proposing no fly zones over Syria to ensure Assad cannot continue indiscriminately bombing his own people, Turkey has demonstrated a desire to treat the underlying sickness, rather than its various symptoms of the troubles in Syria. For this reason, foremost among its objectives is, and has always been, the end of Assad and his brutal regime.

Rather than weakening its stance on Assad, this is a critical time for the U.S. to reinforce its past statements calling for him to unconditionally "step aside." This will only serve to strengthen America's relationship with regional allies such as Turkey and draw the important distinction that the U.S. will not tolerate any form of terrorism, whether it is perpetrated by ISIS or Assad. Only when the U.S.-led coalition broaches the broader discussion of an integrated solution to the conflict will its many facets be addressed and the promise of a return to peace become possible.

Halil Danismaz
President, Turkish Heritage Organization