World

How Assad Benefits From U.S. Airstrikes In His Backyard

U.S.-led strikes on ISIS work to Bashar al-Assad's advantage in his fight against the Syrian opposition trying to overthrow him.

How Assad Benefits From U.S. Airstrikes In His Backyard
Getty Images / Salah Malkawi

In case it wasn't clear already that Bashar al-Assad and the U.S. have a shared interest in the ISIS fight, it should be pretty evident now.

The Syrian dictator appears to be on board with the U.S.-led airstrikes in his backyard — or at least willing to put up with them. After the strikes, Syria's foreign ministry claimed Syria "backs any international effort that contributes to the fight against terrorists, be it against ... [ISIS], Al-Nusra Front or anyone else."

It's not hard to see why strikes on ISIS work to his advantage. Removing ISIS militants from the picture would be nice seeing as they, like Syria's moderate rebels, are also trying to overthrow him. (Video via YouTube / ترجمان الشامي للانتاج الاعلامي)

Not to mention, it would also serve as a convenient way to distract the rest of the world from the violence he's inflicted on his own people. (Video via Aleppo Media Centre)

The New York Times describes Assad's PR strategy as "obliterating any moderate opposition to his rule and persuading the world it faces a stark choice between him and Islamist militants who threaten the West."

The foreign ministry's statement Tuesday does mark somewhat of a shift in tone. Ever since the Obama administration first floated the idea of airstrikes in Syria, the Assad regime had insisted it needs to first approve them, which was not the case Monday night.   

The State Department did confirm the Syrian regime was "notified" but insists that did not represent any sort of cooperation or coordination with Assad. Not that it really matters. The optics alone present a golden opportunity for Assad — who's eager to rebuild ties with the West.

As Syria analyst Emile Hokayem put it on Twitter: "Assad has every interest in making up coordination w/ US or playing up every small contact."

Observers say Assad wants a return to the way things were a few years ago, when he was regarded as a reformer in the region — so much so, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with Assad in a high-profile, if much-criticized, official visit, and Vogue dubbed him and his wife, Asma, "wildly democratic."

With that in mind, Paul Salem of the Middle East Institute explains to CBC why it makes perfect sense for Syria to make it look like it's working with the U.S. "They would like that because it would legitimize them — and the U.S. is not going to go there politically."

While Syria appears to appreciate the airstrikes against its enemy, its staunch ally in Moscow doesn't. In a rather ironic development Tuesday morning, Russia of all places condemned the U.S. strikes in Syria as a violation of international law.  

This video includes images from Getty Images, Rakkar / CC BY SA 3.0