Don't Get in Bed with Assad

(New York Times) Emile Hokayem - The rise of extremists in Syria is generating dangerous thinking in Western capitals. High-level advisers and former officials have recently started to talk about Bashar al-Assad as a lesser evil than whatever comes next; some even see him as a potential partner in fighting jihadi terrorists. Renewed intelligence cooperation is exactly how Assad hopes to lure back Western support. He reportedly offered such assistance to Obama through Iraqi prime minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who recently visited Washington. Offering information about Western hostages and Western jihadis, Assad calculates, will bolster him just as the chemical weapons deal did. Engagement will shore up his legitimacy and further demoralize his internal foes. Ultimately, Assad expects that the fear of future jihadi terrorism will make the world forget his massacres. That he may succeed after killing tens of thousands of his own people would be a damning indictment of Western policy. Beyond being morally bankrupt, restoring counterterrorism cooperation with the Assad regime will only exacerbate the jihadi problem. It will validate Sunni suspicions that the West was always in cahoots with Assad; it will drive more Syrians into jihadi hands; and it will make it more difficult to cultivate local partners to counter extremists. The writer is a Middle East analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

2013-12-24 00:00:00

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