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America goes to war against ISIL in Syria – An alliance of convenience or prelude to regime change?

As US President Barack Obama announced late on Wednesday that the Pentagon had sanctioned air strikes in Syria in view of opposing and destroying terror militants before they can further encroached themselves onto the region, analysts have weighted whether or not such military intervention will prelude an alliance of convenience with Damascus or rather serve as a platform to the ousting of President Bashar Al Assad.

In an address to the nation President Obama made clear that he would hunt down and strike Islamic terror elements wherever they are and at whatever cost, and as it may soon prove to be regardless of international law.

"Our objective is clear: We will degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) through a comprehensive and sustained air strikes strategy," stressed President Obama, outlining the core of America's new counter-terror strategy for Iraq and Syria.

While US military intervention in Iraq has been understood and sold to the public as part of Washington's follow-through policy, the expression of its continuing support to Iraq's democratic project, airstrikes in Syria could prove counter-productive to Obama's efforts against the Syrian regime; unless of course such attacks will not be limited to ISIL's hideouts.

Or could it be that three years after the US branded President Al Assad a tyrant, effectively calling for his demise; the danger represented by ISIL will force self-declared enemies into natural allies? As far as history goes, it would not be the first time that sworn foes chose out of necessity to join up arms before a greater evil – Staline after all helped the Allies break Adolf Hitler's reign of terror back in 1941. Without Communist Russia's intervention, Europe might look very different indeed.

Washington's position on Syria

From the onset of the Arab Spring Movement in 2011, the United States has positioned itself in favour of a regime change in Syria, arguing that President Al Assad had lost all legitimacy due to his tyrannical rule. This statement of support to the Syrian Opposition preluded an active campaign against Damascus at the United Nations. Within months Al Assad found himself isolated, scorned and besieged by a barrage of sanctions. As Washington spearheaded a global anti-Assad campaign, millions of dollars were thrown at the Syrian Opposition.

On the ground, this campaign translated in the arming of Islamist militias, the "moderates" President Obama has often referred to when justifying the unprecedented outpour of heavy weapons and other military equipment into Syria.

US support arguably contributed to the strengthening of terror radical cells in the region and not as planned, to the fall of President Al Assad. If anything the anti-Assad campaign not only gave birth to a grand radicalization movement, it also generated sectarian and social fractures, directly playing up to regional fault-lines.

Looking back Washington's campaign in Syria completely missed its marks. Many have actually argued that it was precisely Obama's blunder in Syria which gave rise to ISIL.

Calls from US regional allies (mainly Saudi Arabia) for Jihad against President Bashar Al Assad led to the pouring of western wannabe jihadists into the arms of the most radical Islamic groups the world has ever encountered.

As Washington' Syrian strategy backfired in the most spectacular and destructive manner possible, US officials were forced to rethink their strategy and opt for an alternative path.

The enemy of my enemy …

However profoundly opposed to Al Assad the US might claim to be, political analysts and military strategists have argued that only through an alliance of nations, of all nations for that matter, would the war on terror prove effective against the likes of IS and Al Qaeda in the greater Levant.

Back in August, Leslie Gelb, the former president of the Council on Foreign Relations made the case of an alliance with Damascus, stressing such plan made sense from an objective strategic standpoint. Max Abrahms, a Northeastern University professor and terrorism analyst also concurred to such assessment, noting, "I think there may be an opportunity for the US to work with Assad against ISIL."

Dr Haytham Mouzahem, Director of the Beirut Center for Middle Eastern Studies quoted, "As Winston Churchill said during World War II: "If Hitler invaded hell, I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons,"" to put this new American-Syrian conundrum into perspective.

But if objectivity, necessity and realism make the case of an alliance in between Damascus and Washington, in which category does President Obama's new Syrian campaign fall into – with or against? It could well be neither …

The lone ranger

While Syrian Prime Minister Walid Al Moualem said back in late August that his government would remain, "ready to cooperate and coordinate on the regional and international level in the war on terror," the idea of a unilateral decision on the part of the US to bomb Syria was never part of the plan.

It is crucial to understand that it is America's desire to by-pass international law and disregard Syria' national sovereignty which stands at the core of Damascus' rejection of a foreign military move against terror militants on its soil.

Within hours of Obama's address to the nation, Syrian Minister of National Reconciliation Affairs, Ali Haidar, warned that any US military strike on Syria would be understood as an act of war against the Syrian people.

But Syria is not alone in contesting the legitimacy of Obama's decision to strike unilaterally, regardless of his intentions. Speaking to RT on Friday, retired US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, Karen Kwiatkowski explained that Washington's lone ranger callous attitude toward international law would only sow confusion and fan anti-US sentiment in the region. "Mr Obama wishes to continue the type of strategy which did not work in Iraq and Afghanistan," she noted.

Reading into the lines of President Obama' speech, Iran understood Washington's new Syrian anti-terror campaign as a covert mean to oust President Al Assad and push America's covert imperialistic agenda forth.

Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian expressed doubts toward Obama's new strategy against ISIL, warning that any lack of cohesion against terror would only help strengthen the monster rather than defeat it.

If President Obama made his target known, ISIL, the delivery of his speech and the expression of America's new strategy against terror has left somewhat to be desired especially since it has failed to address some unavoidable ground realities.

While Vali Nasr – a member of the State Department's Foreign Affairs Policy Board – assessed in an interview with The Levant News in July, "Western powers will not support Assad in destroying terror but there could be a situation where western powers will support political negotiations for the resolution of the conflict in Syria that as a result of it would have two casualties – one ISIS the other one President Al Assad himself;" could it not be that it is US pride and not strategic thinking which is getting in the way of the war on terror?

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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