“It was my impression, however, that most of the refugees who have come here from Syria have been fleeing from the slaughter and barrel bombs of Assad’s regime. ISIS, as horrifyingly primitive and violent as it is, has managed to kill fewer — many fewer, I believe ? — people than Assad’s regime, in part because its geographic base is far away from most of the country’s main cities. So why would refugees who fled from Assad be expected to join anti-ISIS troops?”
“Wasn’t that the dilemma the State Dept’s less than successful initiative ran into, when they tried to train and equip Syrian groups on the condition that they would only fight ISIS, not Assad? They couldn’t find people who were willing to fight on those conditions, and those who originally did soon defected.”
Because most anti-Assad Syrians are also anti-ISIS — if they weren’t, they would have fled to Raqqa instead of to Europe. The problem here isn’t (or wasn’t) the Syrians but U.S. and European policymakers who chose to fight and destroy ISIS in Syria without touching Assad. If the U.S. had chosen different conditions — destroy ISIS, establish safe zones or a no-fly zone in Syria — there would’ve been no shortage of Syrian recruits. Turkey has had zero manpower problems in its Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch campaigns even though both were aimed mainly at secondary opponents of the rebels (ISIS, YPG/PKK) precisely because there was a strong anti-Assad component to what Turkey was doing: Turkey effectively grounded the Syrian and Russian air forces everywhere its troops fought alongside rebels. There’s no reason to think the U.S. would’ve had any less success if the policy was to fight ISIS to the death and contain/deter Assad.
Ultimately Assad should never have been allowed to slaughter his own people with impunity for seven years straight which is what produced ISIS and the refugee crisis in the first place. A sensible American president would’ve built up the Free Syrian Army starting in 2012 the way the Iraqi Security Forces were built up as a means of curbing Assad’s murderous campaign and keeping Al-Qaeda on the sidelines of the conflict. Tens of thousands of defected officers from Assad’s regime waited in Turkey for marching orders and paychecks from the West that never came while Bin Laden’s successors eagerly jumped into the war zone and decisively shaped rebel politics.