Beating ISIS means checking Russian ambitions in Syria,argues @EvanMBarrett

Letting Putin Get Away With It

In late 2015, British Prime Minister David Cameron surprised Parliament when he announced the presence of at least 70,000 “moderate” rebels in Syria who were prepared to join the emerging coalition in the fight against the Islamic State. He had reason to be optimistic: Groups like the Islamist Jaish al-Fatah and the largely secular Free Syrian Army (FSA) have both fought valiantly against the Islamic State. U.S. officials, as well as those formerly in Barack Obama’s administration, such as retired Gen. David Petraeus and Leon Panetta, concurred with Cameron’s premise that there are potential partners among the rebels — in particular, among the Sunni Arabs, who could siphon legitimacy from the Islamic State. Regional allies have also highlighted the necessity of such a force, with the Turks last week shopping to the Pentagon a bid to train Sunni forces inside Syria.
But the anti-Islamic State bona fides of various Sunni rebels matter little in a Syria where Russian President Vladimir Putin gets to decide who is a terrorist, choosing which rebels to bomb based on their commitment to fighting the regime rather than on any allegiance to the Islamic State. In practice, this means that the Russians have adopted the tactic of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime of brutalizing Sunni communities, dropping indiscriminate ordnance into densely populated urban areas supportive of Sunni Arab rebels. Even as U.S. officials speculate that there may be some overlapbetween Moscow’s and Washington’s goals, the Russian campaign alienates Syrian Sunnis from the West and the world.


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