The United States Should Work With Russia in Counter-ISIS Campaign
The U.S. is facing a grim policy choice: to destroy ISIS or to topple Assad? It is attempting to do both, although less so since Trump won the presidency, and is achieving neither. The key to success is to choose. The Islamic State (ISIS) is the true threat, having committed one atrocity after another in Paris, Brussels, Orlando, and across Syria. A counter-terrorism operation should be the top U.S. policy priority.
Today, a productive campaign against ISIS is underway. It encompasses air strikes, drone attacks, and special operations raids, all in support of efforts by regional U.S. partners. But it can be more efficient and less costly, and the U.S. needs more allies. The U.S. should work closely in its counter-ISIS campaign with Russia.
The U.S. and Russia should share intelligence. This step will save money and increase information reliability. Russia has settled its military base in Syria with intelligence services and local specialists since 2015. It has proved its capabilities with the identification and destruction of an estimated 209 Syrian petroleum facilities, along with 2,000 petroleum transport vehicles. By sharing intelligence with Russia, the U.S. can accomplish more.
The U.S. and Russia should share costs. The cost of an entire campaign alone would be enormous, but together the two powers can manage it. The U.S. should continue to conduct drone strikes and long-distance attacks, but this campaign demands intensive air campaigns and special operations, to which the Russians can contribute. While Russia spends $3 million a day in Syria versus the U.S. $11.5 million daily, both sides will achieve more if their efforts are complementary.
This strategy makes sense because the U.S. and Russia share goals—to repel the ISIS aggression. Once the U.S. and Russia work together to defeat the threat of ISIS, the difficult issue of Syria’s political future will be easier to resolve.
Many people are skeptical about working with Russia and its allies — the bloody Assad regime, Hezbollah and Iran. The answer is one problem at a time. Trying to address too many goals means achieving none. The most important goal – the one U.S. security requires –is the destruction of ISIS.
What about Russia’s own human rights violations in Syria? In fact, U.S. collaboration with Russia could help reduce the number of humanitarian incidents. Also, the U.S. can invite UN Human Rights Council representatives to monitor the entire joint operation. After all, Russia has plenty at stake in the outcome in Syria, and won’t oppose such UN participation. Though imperfect, working with Russia is by far the better approach.
In World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union fought together against the Axis Powers. Confronting the same evil and the same enemy, both fought fiercely to defend their countries against aggression. It is the time for the United States and Russia to stand together again, against the crime of ISIS. By working closely with Russia—in airpower, special operations forces, and intelligence—the United States will be able to destroy ISIS, and build a better future for the people of Syria, and a safer future for the world.