Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Why Have Enemies, When You Can Have Friends?

By Marc GetzoffPublished November 9, 2014

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The United States faces extremely difficult options in Iraq and Syria. However, the ideology that centers on targeting groups as "enemies" rather than attempting to find reliable allies is one that continues to harm U.S, interests and will not help to end the conflict.
By Marc Getzoff, 11/09/14

As the war against ISIS intensifies, the requirement of a mandate grows stronger. While the border that divides Iraq from Syria is a solid line on a map, it holds little bearing as the conflict in the region has encompassed both countries and many parties. What is necessary is for the U.S to find its key ally in the region, one that it can support with arms and training in order to simplify the conflict and diminish ISIS's fighting ability.

To truly understand the conflict and why it is so complicated, one must examine the multiple sides. In Syria, the Assad regime is backed by Iran and Hezbollah who primarily battle against the opposition forces of the Free Syrian Army, the Islamic Front, Al Nursa, Hezbollah, and the Mujahedeen. ISIS has joined with many Islamist groups in battling Assad and fighting the Free Syrian Army. In the North, the Kurds have established control over a large portion of the country and have resisted any attempts to infringe on their acquired territory from both Assad and the opposition. There is intense fighting between these opposition groups as they vie for control of the area that is not under Assad's command. Assad and his followers still represent the government of Syria while other groups have attempted to mold some sort of control over their respective territories. However, the presence of international terrorist organizations and foreign parties has blurred the lines of who is in control, who is allied with whom, and who is whose enemy.

In Iraq, ISIS has found allies in former members of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party and multiple Islamist groups. These include the Mujahadeen and Al Nursa. Trying to stem back the tide of this advance are the Iraqi security forces and the Kurdish fighters (Peshmerga) along with international forces and Hezbollah which is recognized as a terrorist organization that is backed by Iran.

In short, the situation is nearly impossible to comprehend. Establishing a specific group in one of the conflicts as an enemy and attempting to destroy it will only increase the influence and power of other radical groups. The only logical way to approach this situation is not by designating enemies for elimination, but by establishing a group that the U.S can depend on as an ally.

As of right now, the Kurdish forces seem to be the only acceptable option. They have produced a standing and relatively dedicated army and have few Islamic fundamentalists in their ranks. Fighting against ISIS in Iraq and in Syria, they have demonstrated their desire to remove ISIS and to defend cities and towns against the onslaught. With strong enough support and capable people in charge of maintaining this alliance, the United States may be able to establish a credible and trusted ally within a sea of turmoil and violence. This would help the United States to not only protect its interests in the region but to help promote peace and security.

The Kurdish forces have been long backed by the U.S. military and have gained the respect of the United Nations. They present not only a formidable force that can help to roll back ISIS but also provide a more reliable ally than the Iraqi government, which only recently has been able to overcome its sectarian nature. In order to effectively protect the area from the possible consequences of empowering a radical group, the United States should focus on providing military and economic aid to the Kurds in the pursuit of providing a reliable ally that can stop the onslaught of ISIS.