Does Joe Biden really mean what he says on ISIS?

How can the U.S. fight ISIS in Syria without any coordination with the Russians who control the country’s airspace

Raed Omari

Published: Updated:

In several public speeches and interviews U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has reiterated “I always say what I mean.” I wonder whether his recent remarks on ISIS can really fit into this mould, especially with facts on the ground suggesting the exact opposite.

In a joint press conference with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Istanbul recently, Biden said the U.S. and Turkey are prepared for a military solution against ISIS in Syria should the Syrian government and rebel-opposition forces fail to reach a peace agreement during their upcoming meeting in Geneva.

Even if we assume that Biden really meant what he said, there are undeniable complications that would hinder the implementation of his conditional warning – paramount of which is Russia’s presence in Syria.

It is pertinent to ask how the U.S. can fight ISIS in Syria without any cooperation and coordination with the Russians whose jet fighters control the country’s airspace.

The outcome that Moscow seeks in Syria are all overwhelmingly inimical to long-term U.S. interests

Raed Omari

Zero military cooperation with Russia has been an established principle of the U.S. since the end of the World War II, unless things really change on the ground or if there is convergence of interests between Moscow and Washington on Syria. Americans so far maintain there is no such thing.

Also, how can Ankara be involved in any of Washington’s military action in Syria given its unabridged enmity toward Moscow? Answers to these questions might provide the context for his remarks.


Biden’s remarks are also inconsistent with the Obama Administration’s position on Syria. ISIS, as put in one way or another by Biden, is Washington’s only stake in Syria. However, President Obama has himself has affirmed and re-affirmed that ending Syria’s longstanding dictatorship is the U.S.’s top priority.

For Obama, the Assad regime is the source of all terror in Syria while it is ISIS for Biden. And if defeating ISIS is Washington’s first and foremost priority in Syria – as understood from his press remarks – then Washington may need to cooperate with Assad or soften its position toward him. This would be very embarrassing for President Obama considering his unaltered firmness that “Assad must go”.

If the U.S. really has a military plan in place for ISIS in Syria (not for Syria), which it wants to implement without the need to coordinate with the Russians, it has to be in the form of intensified airstrikes and not with American boots on the ground.

However, the question is who will carry out such a plan? Depending on the White House pledges and statements, ground troops fighting ISIS would neither be American nor Syrian Kurds – to avoid angering the Turks.

They will probably constitute Syrian rebels that are seen as moderate by Washington. But what happens if Syrian rebels get busy fighting ISIS giving Assad the opportunity to make gains on the ground? Or what if Assad joins in with the fight?

Moscow’s interests

Fact remains that Obama has been hesitant to go to war since the early days of his presidency and doesn’t seem to be changing this position in its final leg. If Syria peace talks are meant to destroy ISIS, this entails Washington’s willingness to cooperate with Assad.

The other question is whether Russia’s primary motivation in Syria is indeed a broad counterterrorism campaign. Moscow’s intervention is driven by multiple overlapping motives – of which the fight against ISIS is just one.

The outcome that Moscow seeks – including strengthening of the Assad regime, preserving Russia’s military access to the Mediterranean and gaining leverage for its policies in Ukraine – are all overwhelmingly inimical to long-term U.S. interests.

Even though Washington and Moscow share a tactical interest in eliminating ISIS, embracing Putin’s current approach toward Syria does not make for a sound U.S. policy.

Russia is not really fighting against ISIS. It is propping up the Syrian regime. If Russia were truly engaged against ISIS, its promises and desires would deserve a serious look. But it’s simply backing a brutal dictator and sticking it to the U.S. in doing so.

Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via raed_omari1977@yahoo.com, or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2

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