Even though Obama views the Assad regime as illegitimate, even though [White House advisor] Ben Rhodes has said that "the enemy of the enemy is not our friend," they are anxious to avoid being put in a position in which there is even a [remote] possibility they would encounter the regime's air force. One of the many nightmare scenarios out of all of this for the administration would be the downing of a U.S. [fighter] jet and the capture of a U.S. pilot.
So I think they have a very delicate balancing act to navigate, and ironically the only way they can walk through the political minefield is by acting in ways that are guaranteed to be ineffective.
Syria Deeply: Do you see any possible scenario unfolding where they do work with Assad?
Heydemann: Not now. I do think it is highly unlikely that either the U.S. or key Western governments would move in that direction now. We have to recognize what it would mean in terms of relationships with Gulf allies and Turkey. And what it means in terms of the possibility of any engagement with the moderate opposition.
One of the big political challenges for the administration is how to act in ways that cannot be portrayed as acting with the Syrian regime. Because if we take Obama seriously when he says: "Syrians should not be forced into a choice between dictatorship and terrorism," that means that we continue to view it as important to keep an alternative open. And if the U.S. were to be seen as working with the regime, that would be impossible.
This article originally appeared on Syria Deeply.