The moment America expanded its anti-Isis war into Syria, President Bashar al-Assad gained more military and political support than any other Arab leader can boast. With US bombs and missiles exploding across eastern and northern Syria, Assad can now count on America, Russia, China, Iran, the Hezbollah militia, Jordan and a host of wealthy Gulf countries to keep his regime alive. If ever that creaking old Arab proverb — that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” — contained any wisdom, Assad has proved it true.
In his Damascus home, the Syrian leader can reflect that the most powerful nation on earth — which only last year wished to bomb him into oblivion — is now trying to bomb his most ferocious enemies into the very same oblivion. Sunni Saudis whose “charity” donations have funded the equally Sunni “Islamic State” now find their government supposedly helping the US to destroy it.
As Shia Iran and its Hezbollah protÃ©gÃ©s battle the Sunni executioners and throat-slashers on the ground, US bombs and missiles rain down to destroy the enemies in front of them.
Not since Churchill found himself an ally of Nazi Germany’s erstwhile friend Stalin in 1941 can a president have found a fearsome antagonist transformed so swiftly into a brother-in-arms. But — and it’s a very big “but” — the Baathist Syrian regime is not so stupid as to take the word “friend” at face value. Neither should we.
Obama is the last person with whom Assad would want to associate himself — as Vladimir Putin doesn’t need to remind him — and the Syrian regime will be watching with the deepest concern as America’s promiscuous use of air power spreads inexorably to include more and more targets outside its original stated aim.