Pixel Tracker

Sunday, March 24 , 2019, 7:40 am | Overcast 45º


Susan Estrich: The Enemy of Our Enemy — U.S. and Syria’s Assad vs. ISIS?

The horrifying footage of the second beheading of an American journalist by ISIS, this time freelancer Steven Joel Sotloff, a 31-year-old from Florida who loved journalism, has again placed the president, and world leaders, in a terrible position. To be clear, the White House is studying the video. To be clear, no one is holding out much hope.

Faced with a group that personifies hatred and evil, a group so cruel and violent as to be widely described as far worse than al-Qaeda, what do we do?

With Russia's Vladimir Putin, you can make threats, impose sanctions, create coalitions and put pressure on his fellow oligarchs — familiar steps from the Cold War.

But what do you do with people who are committed to ethnic cleansing on a massive scale, using American weapons seized in Iraq to murder those who do not share their extremist religious views, and kidnapping, raping and selling their wives and children? It is not just Americans they hate, and that is no comfort.

And in this morass, who will stop them?

The pressure now is on another of our enemies, Syria's brutal leader, Bashar al-Assad. He made the mistake of thinking, at first, that ISIS would be a distraction from his own troubles, that somehow he could ignore them and purport to be fighting terrorists. We made the mistake, it appears in retrospect, of not realizing that our best hope might have been to arm the non-ISIS opposition, rather than allowing ISIS to assume control. Or maybe, as some of President Barack Obama's supporters speculate, those weapons would have fallen into ISIS's hands, as well. Water under the bridge.

So, is the enemy of our enemy — the brutal Assad — now our friend because at least he doesn't behead American journalists?

Is this world so frightening that we have no choice but to unofficially ally ourselves with murderers to save ourselves from even more brutal murderers?

My Democratic friends ask me why Obama's ratings are so low when, in terms of bread-and-butter issues, there is more bread and butter on our tables than there was two years ago, when Obama was re-elected. After all, the usual rule is that, absent a major war, boots on the ground somewhere, we Americans tend to vote bread and butter, not war and peace.

Part of the answer, almost certainly, is the nature of midterm elections, the almost inevitable revolt every four years against whichever party holds the White House, which doesn't mean that party won't continue to hold the White House in two more years.

But the other part is the sheer terror of the world and the horrible sense that there is no plan, no strategy, no smart people in a room somewhere who have figured out how to keep our children safe.

Does Obama or Susan Rice or Samantha Power have a clue? This is not about who "spun" what on a Sunday show about Benghazi — the Republicans' favorite political game.

This is about public beheadings, broad-scale ethnic cleansing, news articles suggesting that maybe we somehow need to work with our enemy Assad, and the awful, unsettling feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you feel like there are no grownups in charge, that no one has a plan, much less an answer.

Or, to quote Obama himself in his Aug. 28 press conference, "We don't have a strategy yet." Clearly. And that is almost as terrifying as the video.

"Rooting out a cancer like ISIL won't be easy, and it won't be quick," the president told the American Legion. "But tyrants and murderers before them should recognize that kind of hateful vision ultimately is no match for the strength and hopes of people who stand together for the security and dignity and freedom that is the birthright of every human being."

Sorry, but that sounds like the usual highfalutin rhetoric to me. Maybe Putin knows what it means. But ISIS? I don't think they play by those rules.

Susan Estrich is a best-selling author, the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

Support Noozhawk Today!

Our professional journalists work tirelessly to report on local news so you can be more informed and engaged in your community. This quality, local reporting is free for you to read and share, but it's not free to produce.

You count on us to deliver timely, relevant local news, 24/7. Can we count on you to invest in our newsroom and help secure its future?

We provide special member benefits to show how much we appreciate your support.

I would like give...
Great! You're joining as a Red-Tailed Hawk!
  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.