Is Obama Fighting ISIS, Assad or Russia?

Prof. Sabah Alnasseri of York University says Obama speech at the UN pushes anti-ISIS forces towards Russian strategy

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Story Transcript

SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

President Putin of Russia, President Rouhani of Iran, and President Obama of the United States have all spoken at the United Nations General Assembly this week, which is currently underway in New York. Common among their addresses was that they all spoke aggressively about their desire to deal with ISIL. Joining us now from Toronto, Canada to discuss their speeches is Sabah Alnasseri. Sabah was born Basra, Iraq, and teaches Middle East politics and economy at the political science department at York University in Toronto. Sabah, great to have you with us.

SABAH ALNASSERI: Good to be with you, Sharmini.

PERIES: So let’s begin with what all the presidents said at the General Assembly, particularly about the region, of course at the moment Syria, Iraq, and what their contention is with ISIL in the region.

ALNASSERI: I was surprised with the speech of President Obama, trying to reduce the complexity of the conflict to the person of Bashar al-Assad, as if things were not transformed since 2011. At the beginning we have a peaceful protest against the government of al-Assad. But ever since, this conflict has transformed into a regional and national formation, which is not possible to think of one person or one force as the real cause for the most important roots of conflict and violence in Syria.

So I think the function of reducing the complexity of the conflict to Bashar al-Assad is a way to attack the forces that support the government of Bashar al-Assad. Which is Russia, Iran, partly Iraq, the Iraqi government, and of course Lebanon and especially Hezbollah. So what surprised me, the contradictory nature of his statement. Because on the one hand President Obama attacked Russia and Iran. On the other suggest that he’s willing to work with them to solve the problem in Syria.

I think to understand the conflictual and contradictory nature of this statement is to look at things on the ground. What we see in the last few days and weeks is a shift in the relation of forces on the ground. Russia now is collaborating not only with Iran and Syria but also with Iraq, with the Iraqi government, at the military and intelligence level. Even Turkey. The last visit of President Erdogan to Russia, Turkey seems to be willing to negotiate a solution in Syria, including the, an Assad government.

So I think shift–things on the ground shifted a bit to the advantage of the Russians, and to the disadvantage of the United States. So I think the speech of President Obama is the sign of desperate positioning, and the only way out, the only exit option I think for the United States, is I think to collaborate with Russia and Iran and other regional powers to solve the conflict in Syria, and of course in Iraq.

PERIES: Now Sabah, President Obama actually met with President Putin after their respective speeches. It seems to me rather counterproductive on the part of President Obama to have this sort of isolationist perspective in terms of dealing with Russia, particularly given their role on the ground and that they have a common objective, which is to deal with ISIS.

ALNASSERI: Yeah, but not only–not only ISIS, Sharmini. You see, there are new offshoots of this conflict. If you look at the last few days and weeks there’s huge refugee waves from Iraq, Syria, et cetera, from these countries, coming to Europe. So Europe is feeling the consequences of this [inerventionist] politics of the United States in Iraq and Syria and Libya. Causing a lot of problems for European states besides the already existing economic and political crisis they have. So actually, other countries, [regional] but also in the European context, are feeling the consequences of these [adventurous] politics. And even the Assad government–yes, it’s true, the Assad government, is part of the problem. But precisely because of that they should be also part of the solution. You cannot solve the conflict in Syria by claiming al-Assad should go or the government should collapse, because then you create chaos and a political vacuum. And then the Islamic State will be really an Islamic state.

So I think President Obama on the one hand–and this is part of what we term public performance, appealing to his, whatever constituency, and to the international community with some moral discourse about the U.S. waging their, the good wars, and the others are the bad guys. But in real political terms you can see what President Obama thinks when you listen to what the, what Kerry was saying. That he can imagine that the solution of the conflict in Syria could include President Bashar al-Assad. And his existence or not-existence could be negotiated.

So I think that is the correct approach. The realist approach to solve the conflict in Syria.

PERIES: And in terms of President Rouhani’s comments at the United Nations. It’s interesting that the United Nations is supposed to be the venue in which we are discussing peace, but they’re calling each other out at this venue.

ALNASSERI: Right. And I mean, what again President Obama forgot to mention, the involvement also of the U.S. supporting Syria, Iraq, and Egypt in attacking Yemen. And again, creating chaos there, actually empower al-Qaeda in Yemen just like attacking in Syria and opposing the Assad government empowers the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra and all these extremist groups. So their policies in the region creating what the American would term creative chaos, in Libya and Iraq, in Yemen, in Syria, et cetera.

The problem is what complicates matters in Iraq and Syria, that you have international or regional power to assume their own agenda. And these agendas are conflictual and contradictory. So it’s so difficult to organize some regional, international conference to bring all these players to the negotiating table. I think Russia and the United States are the only forces that are capable of arranging this and convincing their allies to come to the negotiating table. I don’t see any other way out, except if there is a popular revolution in Iraq, that could change all sorts of domestic relational forces and include all these marginalized excluded forces in Iraq. That could be another option to push back against the Islamic state in Iraq.

PERIES: And in terms of how each of the leaders had outlined their strategy to deal with ISIL, your thoughts on that? Because it seems to me that, particularly when it comes to Iraq and Syria, the challenge if they were to combine their resources and then have a common military strategy, that it would be a far more effective one. But I didn’t see them leaning in that direction.

ALNASSERI: Right. I mean, Egypt is a good example, too, where you can see also there’s a shift towards Russia. The Egyptian army, they are now much more reconciliatory with the Assad government and the [inaud.]. Because they regard the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra and all of these extremist groups as a threat to them. And we can see that the conflict was extending to the Sinai peninsula and so on. There’s a shift also in Egypt to want solving the conflict in a way that stabilizes the Syrian state and the Syrian army, and in a way could operate also with Russia. On the one hand.

On the other hand, of course, the Egyptian army was dragged into the war in Yemen by the Saudis. And they are in conflict there. What the Saudis consider as a regional conflict of hegemony between Iran and Saudi Arabia, that Iran is supporting the Houthi forces in Yemen whereas Saudi Arabia of course is supporting the government of Yemen, or the displaced government of Yemen, to shift the relation of forces in Yemen to the advantage of Saudi Arabia. So again you can see the extension of the regional conflict of Syria and Iraq into Yemen.

PERIES: Sabah Alnasseri, Thank you so much for joining us today.

ALNASSERI: My pleasure, Sharmini. Good to be with you.

PERIES: Thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

End

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