In spite of mounting pressure for the US to expand its Iraq bombing campaign into Syria, the Obama Administration’s hesitation is thoroughly appropriate. While the Islamic State is a regional threat that cannot be addressed if the terrorist organization is allowed to use Syria as a safe haven, the US cannot act to empower other hostiles, including the Assad regime, the Al Qaeda affiliated Al-Nusra front, and lesser threats. Although it may be tempting to forgo addressing the broader and long-term ripple effects of engaging the more immediate threat that is the Islamic State, the US, its global partners, and regional security forces should attempt to use one stone to kill two birds.
When the activities of the Islamic State were largely contained within Syria, the threat to global and regional interests was only a potential; whereas, the threat to the Assad regime was not only imminent, it actually served Western and regional interests. It is when the Islamic State started attacking Free Syrian Army forces, conquering Iraqi territory, and pushing into other nations like Lebanon that the Islamic State became a regional and global problem. What the US and regional security forces need to is develop a strategy that reestablishes this once beneficial dynamic. Assad wants US and regional cooperation on addressing the Islamic State and the Islamic State wants the US to stop bombing them, so it only makes sense to give them what they want in order to secure American interests in the region.
Because the US cannot fully eliminate the Islamic State and/or Assad’s forces without a major military engagement and commitment over years, even with the aid of regional security forces, the US should seek to corral the Islamic State and Assad’s forces into a single war zone. Providing support to protect Western friendly forces could utilize the limited airstrikes America is willing and able to provide in order to help regional forces funnel Islamic State fighters into territory controlled by Assad’s military. In other words, the US should strategically allow the Islamic State shifting save havens with boundaries determined by what territory is controlled by friendly forces that make a war with Assad forces the easiest battle for the Islamic State. Engaging in such a strategy would likely help weaken and/or defeat both sides.
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