Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, in this October 20, 2015 file photo. To match Insight MIDEAST-CRISIS-SYRIA/PUTIN REUTERS/Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti/Kremlin/ Files ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY (© RIA Novosti / Reuters/REUTERS)
The situation is getting dire for the Syrian portion of Daesh, the so-called Islamic State; so bad that its fighters are apparently seeking refuge, cap in hand, from the local offshoot of al-Qaeda.
IS is on the run, and it’s entirely possible that, in the coming weeks, U.S. President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin will be able to claim it has been defeated in Syria, if not quite destroyed.
The reduction of IS is a good thing. Unfortunately, Syria’s problems run far deeper.
Despite the fact that Daesh draws considerable attention in the West – arguably too much – it is not the main driver of conflict in Syria. Not even close. Nor is it the worst butcher.
The gold medal there goes to Mr. Putin’s ally, the Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad.
Indeed, there’s a persuasive argument to be made that the Islamic State emerged as a reaction to the Assad regime’s brutal repression, and the situation of Sunnis in Iraq – a mad overreaction, but a reaction all the same.
As IS is diminished, remember that for most Syrians, it is not the cause of their misery. That makes things a good deal more complicated for the coalition of Western countries involved in the region, including Canada.
One of the difficulties posed by the heavily factionalized Syrian opposition is that much of it is hostile to the West. And Russia, which along with Iran is the most influential external geopolitical actor in Syria, is in no hurry to depose its client, Mr. al-Assad.
The U.S., despite sending a volley of cruise missiles into a Syrian military facility last month, is a major actor against IS, but otherwise a peripheral actor in Syria.
The diminution of IS is a small victory, but it will not end the tragic chain of violence that began in Syria six years ago.