Frederic C Hof
"Islamic State (Isis) is the catastrophic consequence of political illegitimacy in Iraq and Syria. In Syria the vacuum’s creator is Bashar al-Assad – with the enthusiastic backing of Iran, he pursues a political survival strategy of collective punishment, featuring mass homicide focused on civilians.
Assad is the cause of Syria’s legitimacy crisis. Isis, aside from the humanitarian catastrophe spawned by Assad, is the principal effect. Assad’s barrel bombs and starvation sieges are gifts of incalculable value to Isis. And Isis’s subjugation of eastern Syria is essential to sustain the group’s military operations in Iraq.
Key near-term aims could be to introduce regional ground forces into eastern Syria to rout Isis and stand up a new Syrian government, while stopping Assad regime barrel bombs and strikes on residential areas in western Syria. If the desired end in Syria is a negotiated political solution, Isis must be beaten militarily and the regime atrocities stopped. Otherwise there is no basis for talks.
Legitimate governance for all of Syria – and for that matter all of Iraq – is a long way off. Defeating Isis in Syria – where its lack of a popular base makes it most vulnerable – is the essential first step. Time is of the essence. The Assad-abetted Isis malignancy makes time the enemy."