The execution of US journalist James Foley by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has refocused international attention on the Syrian crisis and the debate now is about the necessity of dealing with this. As for the US administration, it finds itself occupying an increasingly awkward and difficult position.
We witnessed the slaughter of an American journalist at the hands of a British terrorist who belongs to ISIS. This means that the Syrian crisis is not just a regional one; it is one that Europe and the US can no longer ignore. Nor can it be argued that there is any benefit in coordinating with the criminal Assad regime against ISIS. The crimes being committed by ISIS today—from Iraq to Syria—come just one year after the Ghouta chemical attack, while Assad has still not faced international justice for this, nor has US President Barack Obama committed to moving against the Syrian tyrant who has crossed all international red lines. Obama has been placed in an even more difficult position this week after the UN announced that the death toll in Syria had risen to over 191,000.
Therefore, today we are facing a crisis that has surpassed all limits—ethical, security, political or otherwise. So how can Obama today put forward any clear position that does not contain—to one degree or another—serious action against Assad?
At the same time, Europe has begun to take an increasingly clear position, especially when compared to the US policy on Syria. In comments on Foley’s execution, Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said: “Everyone who is not calling for a stronger approach against ISIS in Iraq must realize that it will only be successful if we are ready to take on ISIS in Syria as well.” We must also recall that the Netherlands is a NATO member. The Dutch Foreign Minister called for greater western assistance for the Syrian opposition to confront Assad. The Dutch are not alone in Europe in pursuing this approach, in fact the French are pursuing an even harder line, while Britain has outright rejected cooperating with Assad to confront ISIS.
Washington’s unconvincing position towards Syria goes beyond this, and serious questions are being asked in America today about President Barack Obama’s strategy, along with a general sense of skepticism towards Obama’s previous policies. This has only increased after it was revealed that the US launched a failed military operation this summer to try and free two US prisoners being held in Syria, including James Foley. So the question that is being asked today is: How can the US administration say that military intervention in Syria is difficult due to Assad’s strong anti-aircraft capabilities when US forces were able to conduct an operation such as this?
So, it is clear that the Syrian crisis today is one that increasingly concerns the US and Europe. As for Obama, he cannot keep ignoring this crisis. The best thing that can be said is that the West, and particularly the US, and their serious action against ISIS in Iraq, led to Iran abandoning Maliki. Therefore, serious western and American movement in Syria today could change the equation on the ground, and perhaps even force Iran to abandon Assad. Otherwise, we will only see more time being wasted, more lives being lost, and the crisis becoming more and more complicated.