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Who is afraid of Daesh?

Nov 28,2015 - Last updated at Nov 28,2015

For French President François Hollande, the attacks in Paris on November 13, carried out by French and Belgian citizens, changed everything.

His prior, oft-repeated, mantra that “Assad must go” was consigned to the memory hole, defeating and destroying Daesh became France’s urgent priority and he set out to pull together a “grand coalition” of all concerned states to achieve the defeat and destruction of Daesh — a worthy goal if it were possible.

However, Hollande’s peripatetic travels this week and his meetings with David Cameron, Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, Matteo Renzi and Vladimir Putin have made clear that the attacks in Paris have not changed the priorities of the other states that might be concerned.

For the Sunni Gulf states, the priorities remain regime change in Syria (regardless of what might replace the regime), keeping Shiite Iran down and fighting perceived “Iranian proxies” (most notably now in Yemen).

For Turkey, the priorities remain regime change in Syria (regardless of what might replace the regime) and keeping the Kurds down, both in Turkey and in Syria.

For the United States and the United Kingdom, the priorities remain regime change in Syria (regardless of what might replace the regime), keeping Russia down and keeping the Sunni Gulf states happy.

For Russia and Iran, the priorities remain preventing another successful Western regime change in the region (after the Western “successes” in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya) and preserving the Syrian state, their long-time ally, and its state structures (with or without Bashar Assad).

For other countries without strong views on the merits or demerits of regime change in Syria, Daesh does not appear to be cause for undue concern.

Their governments may also recognise that even modest or token involvement against Daesh would, without having any constructive impact, raise the risk of retaliation against their own people — perhaps, as in Paris, by “their own people”.

For many Sunnis living under Daesh, its harsh, austere and often savagely brutal rule appears preferable to restored rule by what are widely perceived by Iraqi and Syrian Sunnis to be Shiite-dominated or even Iranian-dominated governments.

Since it is widely recognised that aerial bombardments alone cannot defeat and destroy Daesh, since Western “boots on the ground” would be an avidly sought boon to Daesh and since the Sunni states of the region, which should logically fear Daesh more than any other states elsewhere, currently show no interest whatsoever in deploying their own ground forces against fellow Sunnis, what are Western states to do?

Perhaps, rather than succumb to hysterical calls for yet more and intensified violence in the Muslim world (regardless of the consequences) and intensified restrictions on civil liberties at home (certain to stimulate more conversions to jihadist militancy, while diminishing the quality of life for all), Western states should relax, accept that Daesh is an ugly reality that is there to stay (at least for some considerable time), accept that containment is the best that can hoped for and achieved in the near term (and that containment can best be achieved by the Iraqi and Syrian governments, and their own military forces) and sit back and wait for Daesh’s aura of excitement to wear off, for it to become a failed state like so many other regional states in which the West had intervened and for the peoples of the region to sort out their own problems in their own way.

While it would clearly be desirable for Daesh to cease to exist sooner rather than later, that could only be achieved by a massive commitment of ground forces by the Sunni states of the region, and that would only become conceivable if Western states were to cease to claim “leadership” or “ownership” of the “war” against Daesh and cease to ensure through their aerial bombardments the effective containment of Daesh, which permits the Sunni states of the region to sit back, rest easy and commit their resources to pursuing other priorities that they deem more pressing.

Since, through its ill-conceived experiments on the Muslim world, the West has played the role of Dr. Frankenstein in creating the monster now called Daesh, it can be argued that the West has a moral responsibility to do everything in its power to right its wrongs in the region.

It would take a level of wisdom and courage rarely attained by Western politicians to recognise that, in the current circumstances and notwithstanding their moral responsibility, Western states can now achieve more by doing less, and act accordingly.


The writer is a Paris-based international lawyer who writes frequently on the Middle East. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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