Helping Iraq defeat ISIL leaves us with a dilemma about what to do about ISIL's Syrian component:
At the heart of President Barack Obama's quandary over the Islamic State militants is their haven in Syria.
The president may continue helping Iraqi forces try to reverse the group's land grabs in northern Iraq by providing more arms and American military advisers and by using U.S. warplanes to support Iraqi ground operations.
But what if the militants pull back, even partially, into Syria and regroup, as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Thursday predicted they would, followed by a renewed offensive?
I mentioned before that earlier failures in Iraq and Syria when they were distinct problems have led to this combined problem where we can't help Iraq by fighting ISIL without also helping Assad by fighting ISIL.
If we seriously fight ISIL, including their Syrian branch, we leave the non-jihadi rebels at the mercy of Assad.
The only solution is to first fight ISIL in Iraq, bolster the non-jihadi rebels in Syria, and hopefully when we finally get to going after the Syria ISIL forces the non-jihadi rebels can stand against Assad when ISIL in Syria is decimated.
Defending Iraq when the jihadis were weak and defeating Assad when jihadi rebels were weak would have been two doable missions.
Now the jihadis are stronger everywhere and we have one big problem from Hell. We need American (or Allied, if anyone is willing) Forces in Iraq and the Levant to solve it.
We do not want to be on Assad's side in his fight--whose toll has reached at least 191,000 (probably a third civilians).
Already, as we work with Iran to fight ISIL in Iraq, a Shia militia massacred Sunni Arabs at mosque. These militias often have support from Iran. Whether this one did was not stated. But whether it is or is not an Iranian asset, this is the risk we take when we work with Iran. It would be worse with Syria.
Will we really make Iran and Syria our partners in the region? We'd be back to a foreign policy fail with that pivot.
UPDATE: When our rescue effort for Foley and others faltered on the reality that the jihadis moved the hostages, while our Delta Force operators were on the ground in Syria, they took the time to kill some jihadis:
U.S. officials said “many” Islamic State fighters were killed and one American soldier was wounded when a helicopter came under fire.
So it's a start.
Although killing jihadis was probably done to enable a safe withdrawal rather than being Plan B.
UPDATE: We are thinking of striking ISIL in Syria:
The U.S. military is considering air strikes in Syria to thwart Islamic State militants, a senior defense official said Saturday.
Nothing is imminent, apparently.
And I will say again, defeating ISIL in Syria--while necessary--will help Assad.
If we strike hard at ISIL in Syria, we need to help the non-jihadi Syrian rebels on a large scale to make sure that they can pick up the slack in fighting Assad. Saving Assad would be a Hell of a collateral damage in the war on terror.