Dan Perry
and Zeina Karam

With the U.S.-led assault on the Islamic State group, the world community is acting in Syria, but not in the Syrian civil war. When it comes to the issue that has undermined the region — the survival or fall of Syrian President Bashar Assad — there is still no plan.

And that means the West’s goal to defeat the militants of IS may also be doomed to fail.

Syria’s four-year civil war has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions in what began as a movement to replace Assad with a more democratic state. As the government’s control weakened, militants rallying around Islamic slogans carved out a vast safe haven for themselves — recruiting, training and building fighting capacity. From Syria this year, they then struck deep into Iraq, with devastating effect, and now also threaten Lebanon.

Yet any concerted effort to oust Assad and restore stability to Syria does not appear to be on the horizon.

What emerges instead from the actions and words of Western policymakers is a glum resignation that there is nothing that can be done about Assad for now, and the fight is only with the Islamic State.

For many world leaders, allowing Assad to remain in control in Damascus appears to be the least-bad option.

In an ideal world from a Western perspective, an army of “moderate” rebels headquartered in Istanbul would be an attractive choice to march into Syria and defeat both the Islamic State and the Syrian government.

There are some rebels who are pro-Western and largely secular. Some even can be heard on Israeli radio stations promising a future of regional peace.

But upon inspection, these rebels are few and badly divided.