Much of the media attention surrounding the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria—commonly known as ISIS––has focused on their sweeping and brutal attacks in Iraq. In response to the Islamic State’s streak of violence, President Barack Obama authorized a series of airstrikes in Iraq in order to help local military forces combat ISIS.
The problem with this strategy is that the heart of ISIS operations is located in Syria, not Iraq. Since the beginning of their attacks on Iraq, the Islamic State has been working out of Raqqa, Syria and other communities in the eastern part of the country. The Obama administration publicly ruled out the possibility of coordinating airstrikes with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Aug. 27. I believe this decision was made in error.
If the United States aims to play a serious role in defeating the militant group, it is imperative that the Obama administration cooperates with Assad. The Islamic State cannot be effectively combated without taking action against their large numbers in Syria. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey emphasized this point, stating that the ISIS cannot be defeated unless its faction in Syria is taken care of.
From an ideological standpoint, the U.S. has every reason not to cooperate with Assad. Unfortunately, war is not the time for idealism. The situation brings to mind an old adage, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Assad needs us, but we also need him. Even though U.S.-Syrian relations have been strained since the start of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, the two nations are in a unique position to collaborate.
The Islamic State is currently Assad’s biggest problem and the Obama administration is concerned about the real potential for an ISIS attack on American soil. Obama’s concerns about a homeland attack are not unfounded. According to the Los Angeles Times, as many as 3,000 Islamic State fighters hold European or Western passports and up to 100 may hold U.S. passports. This means that the ISIS could soon pose as much of a threat to the West as it does to Syria and Iraq. Coordinating a series of airstrikes with Assad’s government would be the lesser of two evils. Failure to do so would allow the Islamic State to continue to operate inside Syria and other neighboring countries without reprieve.
Assad is an unsavory figure, but the U.S. government is taking a “holier-than-thou” attitude by refusing to cooperate with him. It’s not as if we have never committed morally questionable acts during times of war. In the past, the U.S. has not shied away from aiding opposing governments in times of war. During World War II, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt publicly condemned Joseph Stalin’s Soviet dictatorship but ultimately realized that Nazi Germany constituted the greatest threat to world peace. When the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the U.S. sent aid and entered the war as an ally of the U.S.S.R. despite the two nations’ ideological differences.
This is not the time for the Obama administration to take a moral stance; this is a time for decisive action and cooperation. If the U.S. is serious about uprooting the Islamic State’s grip on Iraq and Syria, it is imperative that we look past our differences for the time being and ally with those who may be able to help.