Obama Seeks New Syria Strategy

US officials met 4 times this week to discuss new strategy for Syria. US 'Iraq First' policy no longer tenable. Assad must be removed.

Cynthia Blank ,

Barack Obama, John Kerry, Susan Rice
Barack Obama, John Kerry, Susan Rice

US President Barack Obama has asked his national security advisors to determine a new strategy for the war against Islamic State (ISIS). 

The key issue is Syria, senior US officials and diplomats told CNN, as the President has realized it may be impossible to defeat the terrorist organization without a political transition in Syria and the removal of President Bashar al-Assad. 

Obama's call for a strategy review is an implicit admission that the initial strategy of confronting ISIS with airstrikes in Iraq, and then moving on to Syria - without also attempting to remove al-Assad - was a misjudgment. 

Over the past week, the White House convened four meetings of the President's national security team. Obama chaired one meeting while the others were attended by other top US officials, such Secretary of State, John Kerry. 

The purpose of these meetings, was to examine, "to a large degree how our Syria strategy fits into our ISIS strategy," one senior official stated. 

"The President has asked us to look again at how this fits together," the official continued. "The long-running Syria problem is now compounded by the reality that to genuinely defeat ISIS, we need not only a defeat in Iraq but a defeat in Syria." 

During the month of October, the United States stressed an "Iraq first" strategy - disabling ISIS in Iraq before moving operations over to Syria. The main reasons for this policy were pressure from US allies operating in Syria and efforts not to exacerbate the bloody civil war there. 

Another factor may also have been ISIS's argument that the border between Iraq and Syria is a product of "Western colonialism" and their refusal to differentiate between the two countries. 

Most importantly, Washington hoped that initially concentrating on Iraq would provide the US with time to vet, train and arm a moderate Syrian rebels fighting force to combat ISIS, and ultimately al-Assad's regime.

However, now as the Free Syrian Army struggles in a battle on two fronts - the first against al-Assad's forces and the second against extremists from both ISIS and other terrorists groups such as al-Nusra - US officials have realized the "Iraq first" strategy may be unsustainable.

"Developments on the ground have caused the national security team to collectively conclude we may not have time for Iraq first. In an ideal world you would drive ISIS out of Iraq and pivot to Syria. But if by then the moderate opposition has been smacked and ISIS is still there, that doesn't help," a senior administration official said.

Other White House sources, however, denied that Obama ordered the review, but did admit the existence of concern in regard to some core aspects of the strategy.

A senior administration official, responding to a CNN report, says there is an ongoing discussion and "constant process of recalibration."