We must liberate Eastern Syria, first

In the five days since the Paris bombings, the American people seem to be arguing about everything except how to win it. From refugees to relitigating Gulf War II, ancillary issues have dominated. Meanwhile, Syrians are still dying thanks to the de facto terror pincer of Assad and Daesh.

Stopping that will require the American leadership – including perhaps “boots on the ground.” It took the American military to remove the Saddam Hussein regime and build a democratic government in its place, in no small part because Sunni and Shi’ite Arabs in that country trusted us – far more than each other – to keep al Qaeda and Tehran at bay. One of the less noticed parts of President Bush’s about-face on Iraq in 2007 was a new insistence on resisting Tehran’s ambitions in its neighbor. Sunni Iraqis noticed.

When we left in 2011, our stabilizing influence was gone, and fear replaced it. A similar dynamic took place in Syria, which gave Daesh (previously al Qaeda in Iraq) its opportunity.

Paris reminded all of us of the cost of containing Daesh without defeating it. Iraq, however, should remind us that simply relying on Assad to retake the country will fail. Sunnis will never allow it; they remember Assad’s brutality against them (and his backers in Tehran).

Sadly, Assad is firmly entrenched in western Syria, thanks in no small part to his Russian and Iranian allies. Daesh has no such benefactors in the east. Thus, Eastern Syria is where we can build a state free of terror, a state where Syrians can build their own destiny, and provide hope not only for themselves, but their compatriots trapped in Assad-run west.

One would like to think there are Syrian rebels willing to do that, but recent history clearly shows we cannot recruit anti-Daesh fighters unless they can also fight the Assad regime. It may take at least *some* direct military action on our part, but that can only take place in the east (given the aforementioned Russian presence in the west). Still, if we establish a terror-free region in Eastern Syria, make it clear it’s a safe place for opponents of Assad, and use it to help said opponents bring Assad down, we can defeat Daesh in the short term *and* prevent future Daeshes in the long term.

In others words, we can – you know – actually *win* the war.

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