Joseph Miller is the pen name for a ranking Department of Defense official with a background in U.S. special operations and combat experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has worked in strategic planning.
The Syrian civil war, which is about to enter its fourth year, has presented the Obama administration with one of its most difficult national security challenges to date. A political solution seems impossible if it means dictator Bashir al-Assad has to go. And meanwhile, as al-Qaida has grown in strength — including the potential to gain chemical weapons — the White House has crafted a foreign policy more closely based on domestic opinion polling than U.S. strategic interest, placing this country and its citizens at risk.
What began as protests against the brutal regime of al-Assad quickly escalated into a civil war resulting in well over 100,000 civilian casualties. Some humanitarian organizations put that number at over 150,000. To make matters worse, nearly all of the parties to the conflict are sworn enemies of the United States.
On one side you have al-Assad, a known war criminal suspected of having used chemical weapons against his own people, and his external state sponsors and supporters — Russia, the Lebanese Hezbollah and Iran.
On the other side you have a coalition of rebel forces — an estimated 50 percent of whom have links to al-Qaida or have a similar ideology — and a large number of foreign fighters and terrorists. One terrorist rebel group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), has been so extreme and barbaric in its actions and ideology that al-Qaida senior leadership took the unprecedented step of kicking ISIL out of al-Qaida’s terrorist umbrella network. Just imagine how bad you have to be to get kicked out of al-Qaida, a group known for decapitating Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, throwing acid in the face of school girls and the 9/11 attacks.
With what appears to be all of America’s worst enemies fighting one another in a place far from America’s homeland, it’s no wonder that many Americans find themselves saying, “Good, let them all kill each other.” While that sounds nice in theory, the reality is that this protracted conflict has created the perfect environment for al-Qaida to thrive and begin plotting its next attack against the U.S.
Just last month, al-Qaida in Syria released a video threatening to conduct terrorist attacks against the West. This is no longer speculation: The group is now actively threatening to conduct terrorist attacks against the United States, but the administration is doing very little — if anything — to stop them.
The U.S. has been engaged in an open proxy war with the Assad regime, and therefore does not enjoy a level of cooperation with his government to effectively go after al-Qaida from afar. The lack of cooperation with the Assad regime and the closing of the U.S. Embassy in Damascus has left the U.S. nearly deaf and blind. For now, al-Qaida in Syria remains beyond the reach of the U.S. and the Assad regime while it plans and trains for terrorist attacks.