Josh Rogin writes: In his prime-time address Sunday night, President Barack Obama listed the diplomatic process on the Syria war, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, as one of the five most important things the administration is doing to fight the Islamic State. Yet behind the scenes, there is growing schism within the administration over whether ending that civil war requires eliminating its cause: the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
And there is increasing evidence that Obama is siding with those advisers who feel that demanding Assad’s ouster is holding back broader efforts to defeat the Islamic State. After years of insisting that Assad had to go, last month Obama spoke of a political process in which “we can start looking at Mr. Assad choosing not run.” From the Oval Office on Sunday, he made no mention of the dictator whatsoever.
“With American leadership, the international community has begun to establish a process — and timeline — to pursue cease-fires and a political resolution to the Syrian war,” said Obama. “Doing so will allow the Syrian people and every country, including our allies, but also countries like Russia, to focus on the common goal of destroying ISIL — a group that threatens us all.”
Everyone at the top level of the Obama administration agrees with the president that resolving the civil war in Syria is necessary to defeat the Islamic State. But when other officials talk about how to fight terrorism in the Middle East, they emphasize that ending Assad’s rule is a crucial and necessary part of that plan. [Continue reading…]