The myth of partnering with Assad, Russia, and Iran against ISIS

The U.S. and its allies must resist drifting into a flawed partnership with Russia and Iran in Syria in order to defeat ISIS. Russia has launched a diplomatic initiative to persuade the U.S. and others to accept the Syrian regime in return for Russian assistance against ISIS. The devastating terrorist attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 and the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe have added further impetus for this major strategic shift. The apparently easy solution offered by Russia will nonetheless fail. Russia cannot actually deliver the results the U.S. requires in Syria.

Russia’s offer appears tempting because it is based on some truth: the anti-ISIS mission is not succeeding quickly enough. One reason for that stagnation is clear. The U.S. lacks a ground partner in Syria: its train and equip program failed, and its partners include a predominantly Kurdish force that can operate only in Northeastern Syria. Russia is offering the chimera of a ground force: the remnants of Assad’s army bolstered by Iran and Hezbollah backed by Russian airpower.

Indeed, a ground force is needed. But Assad and Russia are selling more than they can deliver given the strength of pro-Assad military forces. The Syrian regime does not possess enough manpower to seize and hold all of the terrain currently held by ISIS, even with Russian and Iranian support.