The Middle East is yet again in disarray. The Syrian civil war still rages on with no end in sight. Iraq is in the midst of its own sectarian war. Islamic State (IS) established a caliphate in Iraq and Syria, threatening to further destabilize the entire region. Despite the fact that the IS threat stretches over both countries and Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad continues to rule, the United States has concentrated primarily on Iraq. U.S. troops were sent back in late 2014 to assist Iraqi troops in advisory and training capacities. The United States began air strikes in August, first only in Iraq but finally expanding into Syria. The United States, despite its willingness to address the rise of Islamic State, avoids confronting the Assad regime and refuses to acknowledge that Islamic State is a major problem in Syria. For much of his presidency, Barack Obama has been adamantly opposed to direct U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war; however, this line of thinking is flawed. To fully eliminate Islamic State and establish stability in Iraq and Syria, it is imperative that Assad must go. The United States and the international community include Syria permanently in strategies to defeat Islamic State or else the damage done to both Iraq and Syria may be irreparable.
The Syrian situation is so convoluted that the enemy is not readily apparent, causing analysts to question which side is more dangerous, President Assad or Islamic State. Yet, in Iraq, it is obvious that Islamic State is the force that needs to be defeated. The United States does not revere the Free Syrian Army as a valid partner in its fight against Assad, creating valid concern that a U.S. military intervention in Syria against Islamic State could bolster the Assad regime or allow for the possibility of another extremist group, such as al Nusra, to fill the vacuum. Mr. Obama’s thinking is flawed because it does not matter which entity is the biggest threat; the lack of decision-making and action has actually exacerbated the situation and both enemies need to be defeated. Removing Mr. Assad from power is part of the key to destroying Islamic State. If the Obama administration does not put more focus on Syria, then militant group is going to get more dangerous and the atrocities of the Assad regime will become even more severe.
The existence of the Kurds causes Mr. Obama to pause on intervening in Syria. In their bastion of stability in the semi-autonomous region in northern Iraq, the Iraqi Kurds have proved to be a reliable ally to the United States and a strong opponent to Islamic State. This caused Iraq to require more U.S. attention. Conversely, the Syrian Kurds are linked to the PKK, a political party fighting in Turkey for Kurdish self-rule. Turkey and the United States designated this group as a terrorist entity in 1997. The Syrian Kurds are not believed, by the U.S. government, to hold as much strategic value as the Iraqi Kurds; however, the United States is making a huge mistake by not also providing support to the Syrian Kurds. The Kurds in both countries are putting up a formidable fight against Islamic State. Why would the United States be willing to help one set of Kurds and not another when both groups share a common hatred for both the Assad regime and Islamic State? The Syrian Kurds will prove to be strategic allies to the U.S. military against both President Assad and Islamic State.
Similarly, the United States employs a “we broke it, we fix it” strategy. Iraq would not be in this state of chaos if it had not been for the United States: U.S. forces invaded in 2003 after a falsified connection between Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda and that he acquired weapons of mass destruction. Then, U.S. forces withdrew its troops in 2011 after nearly a decade of occupation. Iraq was not ready to handle its internal affairs without the assistance of the United States and the troops left behind an unstable government that exacerbated sectarian tensions. . Islamic State gained its notoriety and strength as a consequence of U.S. actions in Iraq. Sunni discontent from the unfair treatment of the Shiite-dominated government bolstered ISIS as the beleaguered Sunni majority supported the military group. The United States is culpable for the struggle that remains in Iraq; however, the country did not directly cause the Syrian civil war. This argument is not entirely true. The United States must accept responsibility for the part that Islamic State has played in the destruction of Syria. If the United States included Syria in its grand strategy, they could help form a new government and make Syria a more secure country.
Mr. Obama fulfilled a campaign promise to remove U.S. troops from Iraq and then announced that the United States’ military engagement in Afghanistan would end in 2014. He was already forced to send troops back to Iraq as circumstances there left him no choice. These facts pose the question of why, after extricating itself from two costly and unsuccessful wars in the region, would Mr. Obama want to get involved in the Syrian civil war with no end in sight? The United States is taking responsibility for the problems it caused and simply doing what needs to be done. Consequently, Syria is not Iraq or Afghanistan. Mr. Obama learned that the United States cannot simply withdraw its troops after years of occupation and expect a stable, U.S.-friendly government to miraculously appear without the long, arduous process of nation-building. Syria is central to achieving a less volatile Middle East, and the first steps toward this goal are deposing the Assad regime and implementing a more decisive strategy toward Islamic State in Syria. Mr. Obama cannot be distracted by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to prevent him from taking necessary action in Syria.