Paul Pillar sums up our strategic quandary:
Despite administration statements about having to think in long-haul terms, patience in Washington will wear thin amid meager results. Pressures for escalation will increasingly be felt. In response to comments from opposition groups about how the airstrikes are insufficiently coordinated with, and have not aided, their operations on the ground, expect to hear more talk in Washington about a need for putting U.S. personnel on that ground.
That sort of talk ought to be met with a reminder of the fundamental reasons—the inconvenient facts of the Syrian situation that constitute a still-unsquared circle—that will continue to make for poor results.
One reason is the multidimensional nature of the Syrian conflict, in which in the absence of a credible Syrian political alternative the United States has in effect taken the side of a Syrian regime that it supposedly still wants to oust, and in which the opposition groups in which the United States has placed its faith have significantly different priorities from Washington. Opposition groups have been particularly critical of the United States targeting of the Al-Nusra Front, which is an understandable target for the United States given that group’s status as an affiliate of Al-Qaeda, but which many of the other groups have seen as an effective ally in the fight against the Assad regime.
Call me old fashioned, but I still believe that the very first thing a country should do when going to war is to pick a side.
If there’s no side to pick, and no strategic objective larger than pissing off the locals, then why do we bother?