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The West's Campaign Against Islamic State Will Only Get Serious When We Treat Syria as An Ally and Not An Enemy

04/02/2015 10:49 GMT | Updated 05/04/2015 10:59 BST

Who could possibly comprehend the medieval barbarity of burning a man to death in a cage, filming him as he writhes in unspeakable agony prior to posting the grisly event on social media for the entire world to view?

The inhuman death visited on Jordanian airforce pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh must now constitute the final nail in the coffin of the group that calls itself Islamic State (IS). The eradication of both it and its grotesque ideology has to be a matter of how not if. This latest atrocity comes just days after pictures emerged of a man being thrown from the roof of a building in the Syrian town of Tal Abyad by IS for the crime of being 'gay', and in the wake of the beheading of two Japanese hostage. Enough is enough.

With this in mind, the bankruptcy of Western policy in the region, the cognitive dissonance it reveals, is no longer sustainable. With friends like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and Turkey, who needs enemies? The double dealing engaged in by our aforementioned 'partners' in the fight against IS and extremism has been the one consistent factor over the past few years of unremitting conflict, chaos, and carnage in the region.

Flying flags at half-mast in tribute to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, upon his death, marked a low point in British public life, while witnessing both the Prime Minister and Prince Charles scurrying over to the Kingdom to pay tribute in person, vying with French President Francois Hollande and President Obama of the US to see who could ingratiate themselves most, was a humiliating reminder of the extent of Britain's ties to a regime whose barbarity and perverse rendering of Islam is on a par with that of IS.

Up to now the military campaign against Islamic State has not been serious. With each passing week of its existence, it grows stronger and more entrenched within the large swathe of territory it controls across western Syria and northern Iraq. Worse, the ideology underpinning it - medieval, nihilistic, and sectarian - grows as it captures the imagination of more and more mainly young Muslim men from across the world, prisoners of alienation, unemployment, and dim prospects and thereby ripe for indoctrination.

The circular relationship between our policy in the Middle East - bombing and invading Muslim countries, propping up unpopular dictatorships and kleptocracies, failing to alleviate the desperate plight of the Palestinians - and the growth of IS has been self evident. But by far the most grievous mistake has been the attempt to ride two horses with the one backside when it comes to Syria and the Assad regime.

"It was worse than a crime, it was a blunder." Those words of the French statesman and member of Napoleon's inner circle, Talleyrand, apply to Britain and the wider West's role in prolonging the conflict in Syria with our support for the 'good' rebels trying to topple the regime, based on the nonsensical theory that the toppling of Assad could ever lead to any result other than the disintegration of the country along sectarian lines.

Bashar al-Assad is not Nelson Mandela, we know that. His regime, more specifically the security apparatus which is a key pillar of his rule, does not automatically spring to mind as an example of democracy in action. But to suggest there could be anything approaching a better alternative at a time when ISIS is merely the most powerful of the clutch of extremist groups operating within the country, each specialising in hideous brutality, with the objective of turning the country into a graveyard for minorities, is the product of magical thinking.

The reality, whether we like to admit it or not, is that Assad has the support of the majority of Syrians, even by now those who were at one time opposed to him. His government would not have survived this long without that support, which has held up after four years of conflict based on the understanding that if it falls Syria and Syrian society will descend into the abyss.

The Syrian Arab Army, along with its allies Hezbollah, have bled in the struggle to stop this from happening. In the process an untold number of Syrian prisoners have met the kind of fate suffered by Moaz al-Kasasbeh. For them and their families it is a daily occurrence. Such barbarity, not seen since Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge were laying waste to Cambodia in the mid-1970s, has no place in the world. It constitutes a threat to us all - the recent massacres in Paris are testament to that - and demands the formation of a coalition of those willing to resist it. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf States have proved they are not serious when it comes to resisting it; more concerned with with prosecuting regional agendas that involve the toppling of one of the few secular regimes left in the Middle East.

Until we reconfigure our policy and co-ordinate our campaign against IS with the Syrian government, this organisation and its poisonous ideology will remain entrenched and its barbarism will continue to destabilise the region, possibly beyond repair. Any opposition to Assad and the Syrian government pales in comparison to the need to eradicate this death cult from the face of the earth.