White House beginning to consider conflicts in Syria and Iraq as single challenge, The Washington Post, June 19, 2014.

The Obama administration has begun to consider the conflicts in Syria and Iraq as a single challenge, with an al-Qaeda-inspired insurgency threatening both countries’ governments and the region’s broader stability, according to senior administration officials.


At a National Security Council meeting earlier this week, President Obama and his senior advisers reviewed the consequences of possible airstrikes in Iraq, a bolder push to train Syria’s moderate rebel factions and various political initiatives to break down the sectarian divisions that have stirred Iraq’s Sunni Muslims against the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.


Senior administration officials familiar with the discussions say what is clear to the president and his advisers is that any long-term plan to slow the progress of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, as the insurgency is known, will have far-reaching consequences on both sides of the increasingly inconsequential desert border that once divided the two countries.



Although spreading faster in Iraq, the advance of ISIS could also force the administration to reconsider its calculations in Syria, where Obama has taken a cautious approach, declining to arm moderate rebel factions or conduct airstrikes on government airstrips, as some advisers have recommended.





Robert S. Ford, “Arm Syria’s Opposition, The New York Times, June 10, 2014.


In February, I resigned as the American ambassador to Syria, after 30 years’ foreign service in Africa and the Middle East. As the situation in Syria deteriorated, I found it ever harder to justify our policy. It was time for me to leave.


First, the Free Syrian Army needs far greater material support and training so that it can mount an effective guerrilla war. Rather than try to hold positions in towns where the regime’s air force and artillery can flatten it, the armed opposition needs help figuring out tactics to choke off government convoy traffic and overrun fixed-point defenses.


To achieve this, the Free Syrian Army must have more military hardware, including mortars and rockets to pound airfields to impede regime air supply operations and, subject to reasonable safeguards, surface-to-air missiles. Giving the armed opposition these new capabilities would jolt the Assad military’s confidence.



We don’t have good choices on Syria anymore. But some are clearly worse than others. More hesitation and unwillingness to commit to enabling the moderate opposition fighters to fight more effectively both the jihadists and the regime simply hasten the day when American forces will have to intervene against Al Qaeda in Syria.


In thinking through options, administration officials say they are drawing on the history of the U.S. experience in Afghanistan