Mideast Expert Dennis Ross: US Must Take on Syria in ISIS Fight

Image: Mideast Expert Dennis Ross: US Must Take on Syria in ISIS Fight ISIS fighters in northern Raqqa province, Syria. (Stringer/Reuters/Landov)

Wednesday, 03 Sep 2014 06:16 AM

By Elliot Jager

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To "roll back" and "defeat" the Islamic State the United States must promote a Sunni coalition against it, but that is contingent on showing the Sunnis that the United States is also prepared to employ power against Syria's Bashar Assad, writes Dennis Ross in Politico.

The Sunni narrative is that the United States is willing to act when Yazidis, Christians, and Kurds are threatened but not when Islamic State Sunnis threaten other Sunnis or when Shiites threaten Sunnis, according to Ross, who has served various administrations on the Middle East and was a special assistant to President Barack Obama from 2009-11.

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The Obama administration does have an approach to deal with the group formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or ISIL in Iraq. But since the organization uses Syria as a "safe haven" and to recruit fighters "the real issue" is developing "the right strategy" for Syria, writes Ross.

The U.S. dilemma has been how to degrade the Islamic State without making Assad stronger. "Avoidance as a strategy in Syria, however, is no longer tenable," Ross writes.

"To defeat ISIL, Sunnis must turn against it. The Sunni tribes, who revolted against its earlier incarnation in Iraq in 2007, must do so again. They must be backed as they do so financially and militarily — in both Iraq and Syria," writes Ross. "The region's leading Sunni powers — the Saudis, Emiratis, Jordanians, and Turks — must all play a role here."

The president has to be willing to employ air power against ISIS in both Syria and Iraq. Washington needs to "provide significant lethal assistance and logistical support to those fighting not just ISIL but Assad as well," writes Ross.

The administration should ask the Saudis to sponsor an international conference aimed at thwarting ISIS. "Having a Sunni Arab state in the lead can only add to the legitimacy of the campaign against ISIL," writes Ross.

Furthermore, the Arab states should also participate militarily in the campaign against ISIS with personnel, by financing tribal opposition and providing intelligence and by arranging for Muslim clerics to bring the group into religious disrepute.

A comprehensive strategy that packages U.S. action against Assad in return for Sunni leadership against ISIS is the only way to defeat the Islamist extremists, Ross concludes.

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