Landis: Assad Wants Cooperation From Unwilling U.S., No Partner In Syria

Feb 13, 2015

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad granted an unusual interview to the BBC on Tuesday, discussing the nearly four-year-old civil war in his country, and his relationship with the United States.

Syria Comment blogger Joshua Landis, who also serves as the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, says Assad feels a growing sense of confidence.

“He is giving these interviews to the West for the first time in years because he's hoping to become a partner with the United States, [and] do what they’re doing in Iraq, which is team up with the national government to reconquer this territory that's been taken away by ISIS,” Landis says. “We're going to do that in Iraq because the Shi'ite government there was built by the United States and is 60 percent of the population. But Assad's government, the Alawites, the Shi'ites there, are only about 15 percent. And they've killed so many people, and this just sounds barbaric, and the United States is not going to team up with Assad."

Assad says his government has been receiving general messages from the American military about airstrikes targeting the Islamic State group inside Syria but that there is no direct coordination.

He says the messages are conveyed through third parties, such as Iraq, but no tactical information is exchanged.

“The United States does not want to get in the way of Syria and doesn't want to have Syria turn on its radar,” Landis says. “So there is a level of cooperation. They are strategic allies, because they both have the same enemy. And Assad wants to become closer allies. The United States does not.”

On Wednesday President Obama addressed the nation after submitting his request for a new authorization to use military force against the Islamic State group. Obama says the draft authorization does not call for the deployment of ground forces. He says that's not necessary to fight IS.

But the president says he could deploy special forces if the U.S. had actionable intelligence about where IS leaders were gathering, for example.

Obama says the missions is difficult and will stay that way for some time. But he says the U.S.-led coalition is on the offensive.

Landis says he thinks Congress has little choice but to authorize the use of military force war powers request, but says it the specific nature of the president’s request shows the U.S. does not have a partner in Syria.

“We're not going to team up with the government as we're doing in Iraq. And Turkey - the big neighbor to the north that has a 500 mile border with ISIS - we just learned the other day from an ISIS defector that Turkey had allowed a column of troops from ISIS to go through Turkey to attack the Kurds,” Landis says. “In a sense, we're following diametrically opposed policies. We're arming up the Kurds to attack ISIS, and Turkey has been using ISIS to attack the Kurds. So we're not on the same page. We don't have good partners. And that means pursuing a policy of containment, not of destruction.”


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