The Syrian president is the beneficiary of a muddled campaign that leaves him free to strike against his own enemies.obama_covered

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Bashar al-Assad was in a relaxed and hospitable frame of mind a couple of weeks ago, according to a Syrian expat who met him in Damascus. True, the US was now leading a coalition attacking Islamic State (Isis) fighters on Syrian soil as well as in Iraq, but he had received firm assurances that it would not be targeting his own forces. The only thing, the president admitted, was a nagging worry that the Americans could not be trusted.

The word from Washington, passed on via Syria’s UN envoy and the Iranians, was that Barack Obama was focused firmly on the jihadi threat and had no intention of helping other rebels who are fighting to overthrow Assad, the guest told friends.

The fact is that in the second month of the US-led air campaign, American and western policy towards Syria is in disarray and perhaps facing disaster. Operation Inherent Resolve does not seem worthy of its grandiose name, hence Assad’s surprisingly upbeat mood.

The latest blow to his enemies was suffered by the Syrian Revolutionary Front and Harakat Hazm, both groups the US hoped would become the nucleus of an anti-Isis force. Last weekend in the Idlib area they lost ground and weapons to Jabhat al-Nusra, a battle-hardened al-Qaida-aligned outfit which was hit by US air strikes again on Thursday. The problem, say critics, is that Obama is taking a narrow counter-terrorist view of Syria and has no strategy for tipping the scales – even though he claims to want to force Assad to negotiate an end to the war. Jabhat al-Nusra men are now reportedly fighting alongside Isis.

“The US,” said the analyst Faysal Itani, “wants its allies in Syria to fight its enemies but not their own, and will not even give them military support to do so effectively.” Many note the gap between verbal commitments and investment. “US strategy against Isis puts moderate Syrian rebel forces in an impossible situation,” tweeted Emile Hokayemof the International Institute for Strategic Studies: ”Assad benefiting, Isis/Jabhat al-Nusra appearing as anti-Assad champions.”

From the Guardian – Read more