Fred Hof wants to use a possible campaign against ISIS in Syria as another excuse to demand support for anti-Assad forces in Syria:
How to avoid the ambush? Demonstrate real hostility toward Assad, whose removal for the sake of neutralizing ISIS is even more justified than the ouster of Iraq’s Nouri Al Maliki. If, in the course of U.S. anti-ISIS air operations over Syria, regime air defense radars lock onto U.S. aircraft, the relevant air defense site or sites should be engaged decisively. Robust and timely aid for Syrian nationalist rebels fighting both the regime and ISIS is a must. Relevant security assistance for a Syrian National Coalition trying to set up an alternate governing structure in non-Assad, non-ISIS Syria is mandatory. Building an all-Syrian national stabilization force in Turkey and Jordan for eventual anti-regime and anti-ISIS peace-enforcement is essential [bold mine-DL]. American leadership in creating mechanisms that can one day bring Bashar Al Assad and his principal enforcers to trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity is vital. These are the steps that can put the lie to Assad’s libel.
Hof insists on all of this solely to dispel the impression that U.S. strikes on ISIS are being launched in coordination with the Syrian regime. He doesn’t think that the U.S. is about to coordinate with the regime in reality, but he warns that the mere hint of some collusion between Washington and Assad represents a “trap” for the U.S. So Hof is not only urging the escalation of the campaign against ISIS to include bombing targets in Syria, which is a bad idea in its own right, but he also wants a huge increase in U.S. support with the goal of overthrowing the Syrian government. In short, he thinks that the U.S. needs to be fighting the strongest forces on both sides of Syria’s civil war at the same time so that no one can accuse it of tacitly backing one of them. This tacks on so many new and potentially contradictory objectives to the original mission against ISIS that no government is likely to achieve them at an acceptable cost, and it guarantees that the U.S. would be at war in Iraq and Syria for years with whatever unknown consequences and costs that will have. I suppose this is the ridiculous conclusion that a Syria hawk would have to reach in order to avoid acknowledging that the obsession with seeking regime change in Syria was misguided from the start. It also reminds us how fantastical the Syria hawks’ preferred policy has always been, which was to back the weakest faction in a civil war in the vain hope that it would prevail over its far more numerous and fanatical enemies.
In Hof’s plan, the U.S. is also supposed to help create a new Syrian government and train a stabilization force, which are two things that we should know by now the U.S. doesn’t know how to do very well. If the U.S. were any good at either of these, the Iraqi army presumably wouldn’t have folded like a cheap suit when ISIS began its advance. Sending more weapons into Syria where they can be seized by ISIS or other jihadist groups is pure folly, just as it always has been. Now should be the time to recognize that the U.S. isn’t any good at trying to finesse or manipulate a foreign civil war, acknowledge that the regime change goal in Syria was a mistake, and leave the fight against ISIS to the local and regional actors that have the most at stake in resisting them. The U.S. will only be pulled in deeper and become embroiled in a much longer conflict unless it avoids escalation now.