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Jordan Signals Aggressive Campaign Against ISIS

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

David Ignatius is at that security conference in Munich. He's a Washington Post columnist and novelist. Thanks very much for being with us, David.

DAVID IGNATIUS: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: What difference might the new aggressiveness of the kingdom of Jordan toward ISIS make?

IGNATIUS: Well, it's a - I think a most important assign to Jordan's own population and to other populations in the Arab world that the leadership is determined to speak out. So often Americans, when they see outrages in the Arab world, say why don't Arab leaders speak up? Why aren't they making the criticisms of these terrible actions done in the name of Islam? Well, in this case, there have been loud, angry protests from the leaders in Jordan and Saudi Arabia and Egypt - a range of prominent figures.

And what that tells the population is that there is a congenial feeling of legitimacy - at least the appearance of it - for action in concert with the United States against these adversaries. How long it will last is hard to say. I'm here in Munich where the talk is of Ukraine, and I remember how intensely united Europeans were after the downing of a Malaysian airliner back last fall. And so much of that has dissipated, so in the immediate aftermath of horrific acts like the burning of the Jordanian pilot, everybody's furious, enraged, and the question is, how do you sustain that?

SIMON: How do you react for calls, which I think we've heard over the past few weeks - occasionally - for the U.S. to be almost chillingly realistic and align itself with the Assad regime in Syria and help them destroy ISIS there?

IGNATIUS: Well, my first reaction is that it's not as realistic as it sounds. I think the reality in Syria is that President Bashar al-Assad will never govern all of the country again. Many parts of Northern, Eastern Syria will be no-go zones for him and most of his army, I would think, for many years. So I think this is a false idea that if only we could find common cause with Assad he could re-stabilize the country. It's not going to happen. I do think, you know, moral issue shouldn't be totally dominant in foreign policy, but they're important nonetheless.

And the things that Assad appears to have done in terms of using chemical weapons against some population - any personnel actions with what the Syrians call barrel bombs - those are unforgivable to the Sunni-Arab world and they should trouble Americans. So if we were to switch sides, in effect, go from supporting the modern opposition to supporting Assad implicitly or explicitly, I think that would be a very, very bitter toll for the Sunnis. And as people say, it's almost a guarantee of continuing - maybe perpetual - Sunni strife against the regime - jihad against the regime extremist actions - if Bashar al-Assad remains in power. So the reason to get him out actually I think is as pragmatic as the arguments that are made for working with him.

SIMON: And, David, of course you're there in Munich - is there a split developing among some Western European states and perhaps with the United States on the question of arming Ukrainian forces?

IGNATIUS: Well, there's a kind of a dance of provocation and reaction going on. We're in one of these periods in which the United States and its European allies are trying to signal that the exit ramp is open if Vladimir Putin wants to take it; that some settlement in Ukraine that recognizes Russia's interest in the Ukraine that looks east and west at the same time if you will, is something the U.S. is prepared to support.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, there's growing congressional support, support from think tanks, support from commentators for the idea of providing at least limited arms for the Ukrainians to defend themselves against what has been significant Russian-backed escalation in Southeast Ukraine. So Chancellor Merkel, the German chancellor, said a few moments ago - to an audience that included me - we don't think this is the answer. We think you have to be patient. Military solutions are not what's going to work in Ukraine. So I think, you know, this is a kind of pressure, mutual pressure. By the end of the weekend we'll know whether this diplomatic effort, backed by the threat of weapons, had any effect.

SIMON: David Ignatius of The Washington Post, thanks so much.

IGNATIUS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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