The United States is considering authorizing airstrikes in Syria in an effort to combat the growing strength of the Islamic State. Those potential strikes raise the question whether that effort will lead to some degree of cooperation between the United States and the brutal regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. We hope not. Even with the barbaric beheading of journalist James Foley and the bloody capture of a Syrian airbase by Sunni extremists fresh in our minds, we don’t view the Syrian regime as the lesser of two evils. And we believe there is a viable alternative to an unholy alliance with al-Assad.
There have been 200,000 deaths in the Syrian civil war that began when al-Assad met peaceful protests with bullets. And it was only a year ago that the United States determined that al-Assad attacked his own citizens with chemical weapons. That conduct by the Syrian president warrants continued condemnation and a ticket to the International Court of Justice, not a political makeover to make him appear to be a palatable partner in the fight against the Islamic State.
Often, in a choice between two extremes, it is possible to find more subtle options in the middle. One such option in this case is the Arab states themselves that helped foster the growth and influence of the Islamic State. While it is true that the growth of I.S. is a product of the collapse of authority in Syria and Iraq, that development wouldn’t likely have come to life in the first place without the support of the Sunni states that oppose Shiite control of Iran, Iraq and Syria, whose Alawite rulers are a Shiite offshoot.
So instead of worrying about the brutal al-Assad and figuring about ways to work with him while not supporting him, let’s turn to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and others, which provided the ideology, funding, weapons and safe passage for Islamic State fighters. They nurtured I.S. growth; they have relationships with I.S. leadership; and they must be part of the solution to the bloody disaster they helped create. Just as the United States is pushing for a political solution in Iraq that will defuse sectarian fighting there, it should put pressure on the Sunni countries that made I.S. possible to pull the plug and shut it down by any means necessary.
Building coalitions is a tricky business, but that process is not nearly as difficult as withdrawing from a war. In the case of Syria, the enemy of our enemy is still our enemy.