Unless the United States wants to be striking ISIL in Syria yet again in another five to 10 years, America should hit Assad now.
It may already be too late. Two years ago, the United States could have killed ISIL before it was born with limited airstrikes on the Assad regime.
This is completely incoherent. Attacking the Syrian regime wouldn’t harm ISIS and other jihadist groups like it, but would almost certainly allow them to seize more territory and threaten more people inside Syria. Had the U.S. attacked the Syrian government earlier, there probably would have been more space for these groups to operate, and they would likely control even more of Syria now than they already do. In any case, attacking the regime at this point would put the U.S. in the absurd position of fighting the two most powerful forces in the country’s civil war at the same time. That would necessarily increase the risks to American personnel, since it would take away any incentive the Syrian government had not to fire upon U.S. planes in Syrian airspace. At present, as Shashank Joshi explains, there appears to be a tacit understanding between the regime and the administration that Syrian air defenses will be left alone as long as they don’t threaten U.S. forces:
There is, therefore, an implicit bargain between Obama and Assad. Assad stands down his defences, and he gets to survive. Obama is likely relieved he has had no need to “wipe out” this system, because it included Russian advisers and operators, and US bombs falling on Russian military personnel would probably go down badly in Moscow.
Attacking Syrian regime forces would drag the U.S. into a much larger, riskier, and more ambitious campaign that could have very dangerous consequences for U.S. pilots and could create yet another crisis in U.S.-Russian relations. The war against ISIS already promises to be long and desultory, and a war against the Syrian regime would make everything harder, raise the costs of the ongoing campaign, and risk the possibility of regime collapse and the even greater chaos that would consume the country as a result. The war against ISIS is a serious mistake, but fighting both the regime and ISIS at the same time would be a disaster.