Why Is Trump Fighting ISIS In Syria?

The Trump Foreign policy team has been
all over the map on what to do next in Syria
— topple the regime, intensify aid to
rebels, respond to any new attacks on innocent
civilians. But when pressed, there
is one idea everyone on the team seems to
agree on: “The defeat of ISIS,” as Secretary
of State Rex Tillerson put it.

Well, let me add to their confusion by
asking just one question: Why?

Why should our goal right now be to defeat
the Islamic State in Syria? Of course,
ISIS is detestable and needs to be
eradicated. But is it really in our interest
to be focusing solely on defeating ISIS in
Syria right now?

Let’s go through the logic: There are actually
two ISIS manifestations.

One is “virtual ISIS.” It is satanic, cruel
and amorphous; it disseminates its ideology
through the internet. It has adherents
across Europe and the Muslim world. In
my opinion, that ISIS is the primary threat
to us, because it has found ways to deftly
pump out Sunni jihadist ideology that inspires
and gives permission to those Muslims
on the fringes of society who feel
humiliated — from London to Paris to
Cairo — to recover their dignity via headline-
grabbing murders of innocents.

The other incarnation is “territorial
ISIS.” It still controls pockets in western
Iraq and larger sectors of Syria. Its goal is
to defeat Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria
— plus its Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah
allies — and to defeat the pro-Iranian
Shiite regime in Iraq, replacing both with
a caliphate.

Challenge No. 1: Not only will virtual
ISIS, which has nodes all over the world,
not go away even if territorial ISIS is defeated,
I believe virtual ISIS will become
yet more virulent to disguise the fact that
it has lost the territorial caliphate to its
archenemies: Shiite Iran, Hezbollah, pro-
Shiite militias in Iraq, the pro-Shiite Assad
regime in Damascus and Russia, not to
mention America.

Challenge No. 2: America’s goal in Syria
is to create enough pressure on Assad,
Russia, Iran and Hezbollah so they will negotiate
a power-sharing accord with moderate
Sunni Muslims that would also ease
Assad out of power. One way to do that
would be for NATO to create a no-fly safe
zone around Idlib Province, where many
of the anti-Assad rebels have gathered
and where Assad recently dropped his
poison gas on civilians. But Congress and
the U.S. public are clearly wary of that.

So what else could we do? We could dramatically
increase our military aid to anti-
Assad rebels, giving them sufficient antitank
and antiaircraft missiles to threaten
Russian, Iranian, Hezbollah and Syrian
helicopters and fighter jets and make
them bleed, maybe enough to want to
open negotiations. Fine with me.

What else? We could simply back off
fighting territorial ISIS in Syria and make
it entirely a problem for Iran, Russia,
Hezbollah and Assad. After all, they’re the
ones overextended in Syria, not us. Make
them fight a two-front war — the moderate
rebels on one side and ISIS on the
other. If we defeat territorial ISIS in Syria
now, we will only reduce the pressure on
Assad, Iran, Russia and Hezbollah and enable
them to devote all their resources to
crushing the last moderate rebels in Idlib,
not sharing power with them.

I don’t get it. President Trump is offering
to defeat ISIS in Syria for free — and
then pivot to strengthening the moderate
anti-Assad rebels. Why? When was the
last time Trump did anything for free?

When was the last real estate deal Trump
did where he volunteered to clean up a
toxic waste dump — for free — before he
negotiated with the owner on the price of
the golf course next door?

This is a time for Trump to be Trump —
utterly cynical and unpredictable. ISIS
right now is the biggest threat to Iran,
Hezbollah, Russia and pro-Shiite Iranian
militias — because ISIS is a Sunni terrorist
group that plays as dirty as Iran and

Trump should want to defeat ISIS in
Iraq. But in Syria? Not for free, not now.
In Syria, Trump should let ISIS be Assad’s,
Iran’s, Hezbollah’s and Russia’s
headache — the same way we encouraged
the mujahedeen fighters to bleed
Russia in Afghanistan.

Yes, in the long run we want to crush
ISIS everywhere, but the only way to
crush ISIS and keep it crushed on the
ground is if we have moderate Sunnis in
Syria and Iraq able and willing to replace
it. And those will only emerge if there are
real power-sharing deals in Syria and
Iraq — and that will only happen if Assad,
Russia, Iran and Hezbollah feel
pressured to share power.

And while I am at it, where is Trump’s
Twitter feed when we need it? He should
be tweeting every day this message:
“Russia, Iran and Hezbollah have become
the protectors of a Syrian regime
that uses poison gas on babies! Babies!
Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, Assad — poison
gas enablers. Sad.”

Do not let them off the hook! We need
to make them own what they’ve become
— enablers of a Syria that uses poison
gas on children. Believe it or not, they
won’t like being labeled that way. Trump
needs to use his global Twitter feed strategically.
Barack Obama never played
this card. Trump needs to slam it down
every day. It creates leverage.

Syria is not a knitting circle. Everyone
there plays dirty, deviously and without
mercy. Where’s that Trump when we
need him?

New York Times (United States)