Should We Work with the Devil We Know against the Islamic State?
President-elect Donald Trump harshly criticized President Obama’s record on Syria: Obama, he claimed, allowed the Middle East to fall into chaos and let the Islamic State and other terrorist groups flourish. After his surprise victory in the presidential election, Trump suggested a dramatic reversal in U.S. policy: allying with the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad against the Islamic State. “Syria is fighting ISIS; and you have to get rid of ISIS,” he noted. So instead of working with the Syrian opposition and traditional allies like Saudi Arabia and Turkey to overthrow Assad and fight the Islamic State, the United States should switch sides and back the Assad regime, working with Russia (though probably not Iran, Damascus’ most important ally), against the terrorists.
It is tempting to pooh-pooh this approach as part of a broader dismissal of Trump’s foreign policy ideas, which are often naïve and contradictory. But, of course, Trump will soon be President of the United States whether you like it or not. Moreover, it’s not just Trump saying this. Some experts, like seasoned diplomat Ryan Crocker, have called for working with Assad, pointing out “as bad as he is, there is something worse.” And, as I’ve argued elsewhere, the United States lacks good options when it comes to Syria. Efforts to train the Syrian opposition, negotiate a deal, and otherwise resolve the conflict have all failed. – READ MORE