US military strategy on combating ISIS may, paradoxically, be assisting not deterring ISIS. Members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and similar anti-Assad paramilitaries are angry at the USA for neglecting to take action against the Syrian regime and for refusing to provide support to the FSA: out of desperation, it is claimed, these militants are now defecting to ISIS.
In Britain, meanwhile, the Government is ‘engaging’ the public in what it calls a ‘week of terrorism awareness’ to promote its new counter-terrorism and security legislation. While ISIS-inspired terrorism on British soil is undoubtedly a real possibility, this legislation not only is an admission of failure in regard to our liberties but also belies a foreign policy failure that impacts upon the lives of thousands of innocents abroad.
Three years ago the Obama administration had the perfect opportunity to intervene in Syria after scores of attacks by the Assad regime on villages and towns saw civilians, including children, massacred. But, with no backing from Britain, the US administration decided not to leave matters alone, leaving the FSA and two or three other groups little choice but to battle against the Assad forces alone. While in Iraq, ISIS was able to fully exploit the resentment by Sunnis of the US-backed government there by launching its terror attacks on Shias and Yezidis.
The FSA fighters, unable to benefit from any US logistical support, are defecting to ISIS because, presumably, they now believe that organisation is the only viable force that can beat Assad. It is claimed that some FSA militants are now in Kobani – not fighting alongside the Kurdish YPG, but in support of ISIS. It may be too late to stop further haemorrhaging of FSA and similar organisations and even if the US commenced a military campaign against Assad, ISIS would undoubtedly take full advantage of that change in tactics and rally even more of the disaffected.
So, once again, US ignorance of Middle East politics is proving disastrous – particularly for the thousands of innocent civilians in the region who face a conflict that appears endless. A cynic may even argue that the brutal beheading of Western journalists and aid workers recorded live for internet viewing succeeded in its objectives: to draw US intervention against ISIS but not Assad, so helping to unite the anti-Assad forces, which in the longer term can only benefit ISIS.
Other Western governments meekly colluded with this unintelligent US strategy and so cannot claim innocence. This is especially true with Britain, where this week Home Secretary Theresa May, abandoning the usual stiff-upper-lip approach so characteristic of her class, has been lecturing the British public on the need for further counter-terrorism measures. But these measures, it can be argued, are basically a sign of failure in that if they become law they will erode further the values and liberties that have been fought for over centuries and which ISIS terrorists are so vehemently opposed to.
Such values were evident in the aid delivered to the hundreds of thousands of innocent people in Syria and neighbouring territories who, daily, are living in fear of decimation by ISIS and its clients, though in recent months the British Government, unwilling to distinguish between genuine humanitarian aid workers and those joining the conflict, has blocked that aid. This is not surprising for a Government whose own moral compass on the home front sees nothing wrong in punishing the poor for merely being impoverished.