Stuart J. Hooper
21st Century Wire
As the spread of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) continues, calls are now coming for the West to work with those it has specifically gone out of its way to make enemies with over recent months and years. In order to understand why, we need to examine how the international system actually works.
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States, particularly from when viewed from a realist perspective, can be said to be the most powerful actors in the international system. This is due to fact that there is no, overarching, coercive and binding authority higher than that of a state, which might be the case if there were a world government. This organizing principle is called international anarchy. States therefore have an interest in their own self-preservation, and the preservation of other states, to ensure that the case for their legitimacy and existence remains.
ISIS represents a non-state actor within the international system. While it claims to govern and control vast territories across the Middle East, a lack of recognition from nation states, the most powerful international actors, leaves their claims severely wanting. As stated above, it is in the interest of states to preserve the existence of both themselves and others, to maintain claims to legitimacy. A non-state actor such as ISIS, which is encroaching upon and invading the territory of internationally recognized nation states, is a direct threat to the legitimacy of the states system. In order to counter such a threat, it falls to those who stand to lose the most to fight back; and in this case that is all nation states. So, we enter into a scenario where any nation state is a potential ally. But, the problem is that the West has framed the states in the region, along with other potential friends, as enemies not allies.
A former British defense chief, Lord Richards, recently stated that his ‘judgment is that you do have to come to some accommodation’ with President Assad in Syria. Not only is this necessary for the preservation of the states system, but also because Assad, and his army, have been fighting against the terrorist forces of ISIS for years now; meaning that Syria is an unparalleled source of intelligence and tactical information ready to be used again ISIS. Richards also added that ‘Russia, ironically, could play a very important role and Iran too’ (RT, 2014). Concerning Russia we have another state to accompany Syria, which while it could also play an outstandingly helpful role in the fight against ISIS, has too found itself demonized by Western leaders and mainstream media outlets of late; particularly due to the crisis in Ukraine.
The Russians hold a key naval facility in Tartus, Syria, which acts as their only repair and resupply location in the Mediterranean. This base is still currently in operation but is undoubtedly threatened by ISIS, meaning that Russia will be more than willing to lend a hand in the fight back against them. In recent days ISIS has explicitly threatened Russia’s President Putin, for his support of President Assad in Syria, and gone on to have a stated goal to ‘liberate Chechnya and the entire Caucasus’ (AFP, 2014). As mentioned previously, the West has been doing its best to frame Putin as the next Hitler. So, will NATO align with ISIS to continue its battle with Putin, or instead perhaps look far further into the future and work to preserve civilization by working with the Russians for once?
To put the situation into context, we need to examine who exactly has been supporting ISIS. Unfortunately, the answer is rather worrying. A report from The Guardian, which was posted in March of 2013, stated that ‘Western training of Syrian rebels is under way in Jordan’. The training was said to be ‘led by the US, but involves British and French instructors’ and goes on to report that there had been ‘no “green light” for the rebel forces being trained to be sent into Syria’. Then, where exactly did they expect them to go afterwards? Astonishingly, the aim of this operation was said ‘to create a safe area for refugees on the Syrian side of the border, to prevent chaos and to provide a counterweight to al-Qaida-linked extremists’ (Borger and Hopkins, 2013).
Further developments since this article broke last year test the validity of that aim, as it has now emerged that the Free Syrian Army now ‘admits to cooperating with Islamist groups in military operations along the Syrian-Lebanese border’. Therefore, the original ‘aim’ has either been a complete failure or never even was the actual aim of the training operation in Jordan. Although these were allegedly ‘moderate’ rebels, this reports suggest that no such thing exists anymore, if it ever did at all.
Top FSA commander Bassel Idriss added that he was ‘collaborating with the Islamic State and the Nusra Front’, confirming ISIS within the ranks of nearly all Syrian rebels (Knutsen, 2014). Further evidence of the disappearance of ‘moderates’ and a complete takeover by extremists emerged as it was reported that General Salim Idriss, commander of the FSA, had fled Syria. The group responded by suggesting that ‘these unfounded rumors are intended to weaken the morale of the fighters’, but nobody denied that ‘warehouses were overrun’ by ISIS fighters while supposedly under the control of the FSA (Reuters and Khoury, 2013).
We have now seen how the West sought to train rebels, who subsequently amalgamated with extremism, so we must ask why it is now emerging that they are using ‘significant quantities’ of American weapons. MI6A4 and XM15-E2S assault rifles are said to be in use by ISIS, finding their way to fighters via a ‘very well-organised supply system as weapons had been transferred with speed across large distances’. The researchers involved suggest this ‘demonstrates the logistical competence’ of ISIS, however it is unknown if perhaps they were receiving advanced logistical assistance from a third party. This third party would most likely be the supplier, who went out of their way to disguise the weapons’ origin by ‘using oxy-acetylene torches or arc-welders to remove the serial numbers’ (Thornhill, 2014). No insignificant jihadi on the ground cares where his weapon originated from, as long as it works. The only person who would care about these weapons having their origin traced is someone who should not have been supplying them in the first place. Are any American bases in the region missing a small stockpile of arms? This has the potential to be the biggest scandal yet emerging from the Syrian conflict, and immediate answers must be sought.
Yet despite having access to such weapons, the tide has been turning in the Syrian civil war as of late, as the nation’s army has retaken control of the northwest town Hama. This positive development is said to have stopped a rebel offensive that was threatening ‘several government loyalist towns populated mostly by minority Christians and Alawites’. The Syrian army issued a statement confirming that it had ‘eliminated large numbers of terrorists, most of them of non-Syrian nationality, and destroyed a large number of their vehicles and weapons’ (Perry, 2014). What this shows is the competence and combat-effectiveness of the Syrian army. Combined with the aforementioned knowledge of rebel positions and regional tactical material, the Syrian government’s army is truly an invaluable ally in the fight against ISIS. Furthermore, the Syrian government is now announcing that is ready and willing to welcome U.S. action against ISIS. The important caveat to this however is that it must be ‘coordinated with the Syrian military’ (McMurry, 2014).
The analysis above has detailed why this isn’t only important for maximum combat-effectiveness, but also to preserve the integrity of the states system; by respecting the sovereign, elected and internationally recognised government of Syria. A report from the UK’s parliament now admits that it ‘will be difficult to justify legally’ any airstrikes in Syria without Assad’s permission (RT UK, 2014). Will the West finally be capable of asking questions, instead of shooting, first? That is, simply, all that needs to happen!
Iran, although thought by many to be an important player in the fight back against ISIS, has said no to such actions ‘because they (U.S.) have dirty hands’ (Dearden, 2014). This viewpoint coincides with concerns that any airstrikes in Syria will actually be used as cover to ‘hit Syrian military targets’ in a campaign to ‘degrade and destroy’ the Assad government (Henningsen, 2014). So, we cannot blame the Iranians for not wanting to get involved in any potentially illegal operations. But whatever does happen, we can be sure that these nations not aligned with Western hegemonic interests will be working together with each other in the future, as ‘Moscow and Tehran are discussing plans for Russian companies to help construct power plants in Iran, in return for crude oil’ (RT Business, 2014).
These are the kind of relationships that represent a positive future for humanity and the progress of international development. We sit at a pivotal moment where the West has an opportunity to change from its misguided and devious past, and forge a future based upon strong, mutually beneficial diplomatic relations with rising powers of the modern international system. Whether or not this opportunity will be taken is yet to be determined, but it will definitely be a shame if it is not. We do, perhaps, have evidence of this opportunity being taken, albeit behind the curtain, as Western air forces begin bombing in Iraq and Syria. United States officials ‘maintain that they are not cooperating with Iranian forces in Iraq’, but ‘privately they concede that they are coordinating airstrikes with Iranian militias by using Iraqi security forces as intermediaries’. It is suggested that Iraqi National Security Advisor Faleh al-Fayyad is ‘serving as a channel between the two (U.S. and Syria)’, as he met with Assad ‘Immediately after the United States began its bombing campaign’ (Groll, 2014). This development, although covert, does potentially signal a positive advancement in interventionist practice, and must be continued into the future.
Stuart J. Hooper
AFP (2014) ‘IS militants vow to ‘de-throne’ Putin over Syria support’ on AFP
Borger, J. and Hopkins, N. (2013) ‘West training Syrian rebels in Jordan’ on The Guardian
Dearden, L. (2014) ‘Islamic State: Iran rejects requests to help fight Isis in international coalition’ on The Independent
Groll, E. (2014) ‘Is this Washington’s Intermediary to Assad?’ on Foreign Policy
Knutsen, E. (2014) ‘Frustration drives Arsal’s FSA into ISIS ranks’ on The Daily Star Lebanon
Henningsen, P. (2014) ‘US Will Use ‘ISIS Airstrikes’ in Syria as Aircover for Rebels, Hit Syrian Military Targets’ on 21st Century Wire
McMurry, E. (2014) ‘NBC News’ Neely: Syria ‘Welcomes’ U.S. Action Against ISIS’ on Mediaite
Perry, T. (2014) ‘Syrian forces win battle with rebels in Hama’ on Reuters
Reuters and Khoury, J. (2013) ‘Top Syrian rebel commander denies reports of fleeing’ on Haaretz
RT (2014) ‘Cameron must cooperate with Putin and Assad to defeat ISIS’ – former defense chief’ on RT
RT Business (2014) ‘Russia and Iran discuss ‘oil for power plants’ deal’ on RT Business
RT UK (2014) ‘Airstrikes against ISIS in Syria ‘illegal’ without Assad’s OK’ on RT UK
Thornhill, T. (2014) ‘ISIS arming themselves with US-made military hardware to wage jihad across the Middle East after seizing weapons from Syrian rebels and Iraqi soldiers’ on The Mail Online
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