As far as I can tell, ISIS rose by taking advantage of the fact that both Iraq and Syria had intolerably anti-Sunni governments. Kevin Drum argues that the Obama Administration played its hand well in Iraq, using the threat of ISIS and the promise of U.S. help against it to force Nuri al-Maliki out of power. Whether Maliki’s replacement turns out to be better, in terms of dealing decently with the Sunni minority, remains to be seen; but he could hardly be worse.
Of course, we don’t have that kind of leverage in Syria (where the Sunni are an oppressed majority rather than an oppressed minority). But it seems to me that the option of backing Bashar al-Assad as the “enemy of my enemy” doesn’t pass the giggle test. Assad is a mass murderer, by character and by heredity. Maybe if the rest of the Syrian security forces and political players were scared enough, they’d take a polite hint from the U.S. and kick Assad out in order to qualify for assistance; providing a little bit of intelligence in the meantime is one way of giving that hint. But I wouldn’t count on it.
No, if Assad is going to go, he probably has to be kicked out the same way Maliki was, by losing the support of his key foreign sponsor. That would be our old friend Volodya. Does Russia really want to see an actual Islamist state willing and able to help support the Chechen rebels? Maybe not.
Whether, suitably supported, the new Iraqi and Syrian governments could actually get their act together and squash ISIS remains to be seen. But getting rid of the Thief of Baghdad and and the Butcher of Damascus in one summer wouldn’t be a bad score all by itself.