TEL AVIV – The New York Times on Wednesday published a column by Thomas Friedman arguing that President Donald Trump should let the Islamic State in Syria “be Assad’s, Iran’s, Hezbollah’s and Russia’s headache,” prompting one prominent Israel-based oped editor to slam the piece as “outrageous and unconscionable.”
Friedman’s oped, entitled “Why is Trump fighting ISIS in Syria?”, argues that when it comes to the Syria contingent of the terror group, which is guilty of genocide, beheadings and the sale of women as sex slaves, Trump “should let ISIS be Assad’s, Iran’s, Hezbollah’s and Russia’s headache — the same way we encouraged the mujahedeen fighters to bleed Russia in Afghanistan.”
Friedman wrote that he sees two IS incarnations:
One is “virtual ISIS.” It is satanic, cruel and amorphous; it disseminates its ideology through the internet. It has adherents across Europe and the Muslim world. In my opinion, that ISIS is the primary threat to us, because it has found ways to deftly pump out Sunni jihadist ideology that inspires and gives permission to those Muslims on the fringes of society who feel humiliated — from London to Paris to Cairo — to recover their dignity via headline-grabbing murders of innocents.
The other incarnation is “territorial ISIS.” It still controls pockets in western Iraq and larger sectors of Syria. Its goal is to defeat Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria — plus its Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah allies — and to defeat the pro-Iranian Shiite regime in Iraq, replacing both with a caliphate.
Regarding the fight against what Friedman calls “territorial ISIS,” the columnist suggests a dramatic increase in U.S. military aid to anti-Assad rebels. Another option Friedman suggests is that “We could simply back off fighting territorial ISIS in Syria and make it entirely a problem for Iran, Russia, Hezbollah and Assad.”
In response to the column, the Jerusalem Post’s oped editor Seth Frantzman, who has traveled to Iraq on a number of occasions and witnessed the destruction wrought by IS firsthand, ripped the column to pieces, not only for being “sick and twisted” and “immoral,” but also for allegedly spreading falsehoods.
Friedman’s claim that IS’s “goal is to defeat Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria — plus its Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah allies” is “simply not true,” according to Frantzman, who penned the response on his personal website.
“The main group ISIS is fighting in Syria is the SDF and YPG, the Kurdish and allied forces who have been fighting ISIS for more than two and a half years,” writes Frantzman. “U.S. forces, including Rangers and Marines, are working closely with the Kurds to defeat ISIS and Friedman ignores them in his fantasy that ISIS is fighting Syria and Iran, Russia and Hezbollah.”
Friedman’s suggestion that the U.S. allow IS to “bleed” Assad, Russia and Iran, just as the mujahedeen bled Russia in Afghanistan, prompts Frantzman to denounce the Times as irresponsible.
It’s hard to believe this appeared in a major mainstream newspaper, it is even harder to believe it appeared in the New York Times. Of all the groups in the world to argue for letting it be someone else’s problem, why would ISIS, after its years of genocidal crimes, be let off the hook? Why would anyone claim that “we” should even encourage it the way the US encouraged the mujahedeen in Afghanistan?
Hasn’t anyone learned that the tragedy of Afghanistan was partly because of US support, and then walking away, from the mujahedeen and allowing the Taliban to take over Afghanistan? Hasn’t anyone learned that working with jihadists and extremists doesn’t work? And why choose the worst of the worst?
ISIS isn’t “moderate” Islamism, it isn’t the Muslim Brotherhood or Hamas, it isn’t even Nusra Front (Al Qaeda in Syria), it is even more extreme. ISIS murdered James Foley and Steven Sotloff. Has everyone forgotten? Have they forgotten that ISIS burned people to death? It beheaded and murdered 1,700 people at Camp Speicher in Iraq.
Finally, in a Facebook post accompanying his article, Frantzman writes, “ISIS has empowered Assad, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, it isn’t ‘bleeding’ them. If you care about human rights, if you care about anything, you must oppose this dangerous, cynical and disturbing column.
“Friedman may be a senior columnist, but this should never have made it past his editor.”