What a difference a year makes. Around this time last year, the West was gearing up for military action against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who was accused of carrying out chemical weapons attacks on his own people. That intervention never came to pass, not least because domestic public opinion in countries such as Britain and the United States was opposed to further entanglements in the Middle East.
Now, the U.S. is contemplating extending airstrikes on Islamic State militants operating in Iraq in Syria — fighters belonging to a terrorist organization that is leading the war against Assad. The Islamic State’s territorial gains in Iraq and continued repression and slaughter of religious minorities there and in Syria have rightly triggered global condemnation. “I am no apologist for the Assad regime,” Ryan Crocker, a former U.S. ambassador to Syria, told NPR. “But in terms of our security, [the Islamic State] is by far the greatest threat.”
One of those critics happened to be Russian President Vladimir Putin, who warned against U.S. intervention in Syria in a New York Times op-ed last September. He wrote:
A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.
Putin decried the growing Islamist cadres in the Syrian rebels’ ranks:
Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria?.