Time to think about
Double issue Nov.30, Dec.7, 2015; page 30+31:
Joe Klein "The 2016 candidates need thougtful strategies on ISIS. Soon."
In his article Mr. Klein cites the GOP candidate Lindsey Graham with this sentence:
"ISIS is Germany and Assad Japan", referencing to enemies of the second world war.
Mr. Klein takes this for some understanding on Mr. Grahams side of basic truths underlying the "syrian puzzle".
Notably that Syria's president Assad can't go - for the moment.
The conclusion maybe right - but lets focus on the historic reference. True - both Nazi Germany und Imperialistic Japan were enemies of the United States in WW2, against both huge efforts were undertaken, and both were ultimately defeated to "conditionless surrender". On the Arcadia conference in Washington the US and Britain agreed on a "Germany first"-strategy, but in practice the pacific theater was at least of the same priority to the US.
But Mr. Grahams sentence is wrong in a more important way. Germany and Japan were allies in the second world war, whereas in todays Syria Assad's government and ISIS are the fiercest enemies. Luckily for the US and its allies, Germany and Japan were restricted by sheer geographical distance (and some ideological differences) to conduct any kind of coordinated war effort. But some mostly technological cooperation did take place, and a major defeat of the US would have had the other "Anti-Komintern-Pakt"-member cheering.
It is striking that both Mr. Graham and Mr. Klein are unwilling to see the more compelling relation:
If ISIS is seen as a modern day Nazi Germany, then the Assad Government is better compared to Soviet Russia.
And even if it may sound unbelievable to modern day conservatives: both Britain and the US chose Soviet Russia as its main ally in WW2.
And although both Churchill and Roosevelt were quite aware of Stalin's harsh rule and many "human rights abuses" (as we would call these today), they chose Soviet Russia for striking reasons: The Soviets were already fighting Germany's armies on the ground, and they were by far the biggest force available to topple the Nazy regime. And both facts hold true for the Syrian governments army in relation to ISIS: It is fighting on the ground, and it is the biggest ground force available.
Taking that into consideration, it is easy to understand why todays Russian government finally took the step of direct air assaults on rebel positions in coordination with the Syrian army. There was a saying in the times when the concept of "air superiority" took shape: "You cannot surrender to a plane in the sky". This holds true today, and it should sober anyone who argues for "air strikes alone".
So, if (and this is a big "if") the US really wants to defeat ISIS, to stop the civil war in Syria and end bloodshed and terror in that country, it must seek a temporary coordination (you don't have to call it alliance) with the Syrian government to that end. Obviously the Russian government is very willing to mediate such an agreement, and I think the US should jump at this occasion. Also there must be some coercion on those "long-standing partners" of the US, Turkey and Saudia Arabia, that have aided and still aid ISIS in numerous ways, notably arms sales and petrol dealings.
Surely such a policy would "bolster the Assad government" to some degree. But the concept of publicly denouncing President Assad as "having lost all legitimacy to rule" while pursuing air strikes on ISIS strongholds has been around for years, with obviously little success. And Afghanistan, Iraq and Lybia are strong reminders that toppling some unwanted regime alone without any feasible alternative governing structure is a recipe for chaos.
But taking the discussions in the US presidential campaign as reported in TIME and other media, there is seemingly very little understanding of foreign affairs to be found. Of course you can learn from history - indeed this is the most important reason to study history in the first place. Such profound misunderstanding of your own country's history, as displayed by Mr. Graham and Mr. Klein, is not only sad, but can only lead to false conclusions.