Is Obama Abandoning the Demand For Assad to Step Down?

Journalist Barry Lando explains how the West’s insistence on Assad leaving power helps ISIS, and says an anti-ISIS strategy needs to address the disenfranchisement of Sunnis in post-9/11 Iraq

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Story Transcript

JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

The terrorist attacks in Paris and the recent downing of a Russian passenger jet in Egypt were both claimed by ISIS. Russia is now acknowledging that the plane crash was in fact a terrorist act, and the country’s president, Vladimir Putin, said there will be consequences for the perpetrators.

[Video of Vladimir Putin]

DESVARIEUX: Some tough talk coming from Russia, which echoes France’s stance after the Paris bombings last week, bringing about a renewed sense of cooperation and closeness between Russia and the West. But when discussing what to do about ISIS in Syria, there’s always been a wedge issue for both sides. The U.S., France, and the UK have been adamant that a negotiated peace settlement would not include the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, while the Russians do not accept this precondition. So is America’s tough stance against Assad dividing a coordinated effort and inevitably helping ISIS?

Now joining us to answer this question is our guest, Barry Lando. Barry is the author of The Watchman’s File, and he’s a former producer of the CBS show 60 Minutes. Thank you for joining us, Barry.

So Barry, as I said in the intro, America has always said Assad must go. But it seems like they might be warming up to a Syria with Assad in the future. So can you just tell us what that’s all about, and why was America so hesitant to let go of this idea that Assad could not be–Assad could not be part of the peace process?

BARRY LANDO: I think they saw Assad right from the beginning when he turned the tanks on peaceful demonstrators in Syria [inaud.] they saw him as a ruthless, corrupt, brutal dictator. A war criminal. And they didn’t–they felt that he should not be included in any eventual peace talks in Syria. That was the same position of America’s allies there and of the Saudis and Qataris also, who are against Assad. It’s been the position of the French and the English as well.

DESVARIEUX: I mean, we’ve supported dictators in the past. I can speak to my mother country of Haiti with the Duvaliers. I mean, it goes on and on and on. So do you think there’s more to that?

LANDO: Well, I think that’s, that’s where they started from. And I think that what’s happened is that Russia refused to go along with that. Russia said, because Russia was Assad’s ally, Syria was Russia’s only ally in the Middle East, really. And Russia said no, Assad has to be part of any eventual negotiations. They felt really that America’s view was kind of naïve because there was really no middle ground in Syria between Assad and the militant Islamic rebels. There was no kind of democratic or no kind of center there that eventually could take power in the country and bring about peace. That’s what Putin felt.

And I think Putin is right. The United States, you’ll remember, has tried. They’ve spent half a billion dollars to try to create a moderate so-called centrist force in Syria, and they failed. And Putin pointed that out, that he said, so what are you going to do if Assad goes? We need–Assad has to be part of the solution. He’s part of the problem, but he’s got to be part of the solution, too.

DESVARIEUX: So at the end of the day it seems like they are reaching some middle ground, and the United States is accepting Assad being part of this negotiation. So is this a direct response to what happened in Paris? Is that why we’re seeing this move?

LANDO: I think it’s a direct response to what happened, in fact the negotiations in Vienna took a huge jump forward the day after the attacks in Paris, because of the horror of those attacks and the feeling of this thing has got to end. But it also has to do with the ISIS attack downing the Russian airplane with a bomb. Because that is the last thing Putin wanted to happen to [him], obviously, because it would connect, it would show Russians, that they also risked domestic retaliation from ISIS, retaliation in Russia itself, to Russia’s–to Russia’s attacks on ISIS and Russia’s support of Assad. And in other words, that the war in Syria could also be brought home to the Russians. That would be very bad politically for Putin.

So he would also like nothing better than somehow to have that war end. And if it can end with him coming out as kind of the, the peacemaker, which may well happen, that would be a huge victory for Putin, because right now he also risks being tarred and feathered with the same kind of–having carried out an operation similar to the ones that the Russians carried out in Afghanistan years ago. And were totally beaten.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. Let’s talk about, now, turning the corner and looking at proposals and to how to defeat ISIS militarily. We have the head of the intelligence [and] security in Iraqi Kurdistan coming out saying that if the United States, the West, backed local players like the Kurds, who are fighting ISIS, but gave them even more arms and resources, that they could defeat ISIS. Let’s take a listen to what that Kurdish leader had to say.

SPEAKER: I think if the international community is willing to fully engage and militarily defeat ISIS, it should not take more than months or perhaps even weeks.

DESVARIEUX: He said perhaps even weeks, Barry, that ISIS could be defeated if they fully engage.

LANDO: If they were given all the arms they need, because right now with French and more American air power in Syria and Iraq, it’s certainly not enough. All the experts say you need boots on the ground. Air attacks are not enough. So who are those, who’s going to have those boots on the ground? Right now a lot of people are pointing–point to the Kurds. But the problem is the Kurds have their own agenda. They eventually would like to set up their own autonomous states in Syria and in Iraq, which they–in fact, they already have.

So the Iraqi government would be very distrustful of the Kurds defeating ISIS, and then taking over all that territory that ISIS currently holds. And the Turks, also, are very, very leery of the Kurds. If they were to be, continue operating against ISIS as well as they have in Syria. It’s a big threat to the Turks, who distrust the Kurds. It’s an incredibly complex area, and that’s one reason that it’s so difficult to defeat ISIS. I think one of the key things is that the Sunnis in Iraq have been so oppressed by the new Shiite government that was installed by the United States, that the Sunnis were very unwilling to fight for the central government in Baghdad. And in fact, many of them have joined with ISIS. Which is, you know, which is a Sunni organization.

And they’ve joined with it because they’re against the government in Baghdad. If that government in Baghdad would change its policies, would incorporate–the Sunnis felt they were part of, really part of Iraq and had a future in Iraq, that would be a tremendous blow against ISIS. It’d be much more important than any continuing air attacks right now.

DESVARIEUX: All right. Barry Lando, joining us from Paris. Thank you so much for being with us.

LANDO: Pleasure.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

End

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