Ever since the notorious Islamic State militant organization established a self-proclaimed caliphate in the Middle East in June, questions were raised as to how the United States would deal with the new problem in the embattled region – especially when Syria’s biggest war criminal, its President Bashar al-Assad, is still at large.
However, after a long wait, it seems that the Obama administration has finally decided which threat it wants to tackle first.
According to an exclusive report by Foreign Policy’s Colum Lynch, the State Department is cutting funding for the Commission for International Justice and Accountability, a group that’s gathering information in Syria about war crimes perpetrated by Assad’s forces.
It was a crucial program that could have been used to prosecute the Syrian president after his long-expected ouster.
But the money is instead being used to collect evidence of war crimes in Iraq by ISIS terrorists – a move that suggests the U.S. doesn’t deem Assad a more brutal force in the Middle East anymore.
The cuts in funding have, obviously, prompted concerns:
"The funding shift has raised concern among human rights advocates that the United States and its allies are reducing their commitment to holding the Syrian leader accountable for the majority of Syria's atrocities because the interests of Washington and Damascus are converging over the fight against the Islamic State," Lynch noted in his report.
Nevertheless, it is a step that many dreaded after ISIS carried out multiple massacres of innocent people in a matter of three months.
Moreover, there are reports that the U.S. is facing a lot of trouble with its sponsored anti-Assad “rebel fighters” in Syria – many of who are leaving to join ISIS-like and/or affiliated factions.
“A substantial portion of [U.S.] aid, including heavy weapons such as TOW anti-tank missiles and GRAD rockets, fell into the hands of the Nusra Front last weekend as the American-backed groups—the Syrian Revolutionary Front and Harakat Hazm (Steadfastness Movement)—surrendered without a shot being fired. Many of the members of these groups then joined the Nusra Front,” International Committee of the Fourth International stated in a report.
In the New York Review of Books, Jessica Matthews, outgoing president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, suggested that the U.S. should now take advantage of the rare agreement of nations like Saudi Arabia and Iran united against a common enemy i.e. the ISIS.
She also stated a peace deal with Assad is a better option than his frankly impossible ouster. He could remain in power but with “most of his power dispersed to regional governors, the prime minister, the parliament, and the military.”
“Though he is a war criminal, Assad’s personal fate matters less at this point than his country’s,” she wrote.
While one can debate on who is a bigger threat to international security – ISIS or Assad – the White House, it seems, has made up its mind.