- - Monday, November 30, 2015

The soldiers of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, have been on a roll, mostly against junior varsities, but now they have challenged the A-team. They may soon get a chance to see how tough they really are. Blowing up a Russian passenger plane infuriated Vladimir Putin and the Paris attacks enraged Francois Hollande. (Barack Obama has the rear, where he prefers to stay, well covered.) The Russians and the French have answered far more forcefully than the Americans, and there’s more to come.

Messrs. Putin and Hollande are working toward putting together the serious multinational force that President Obama says he has already assembled, though no one has been able to find it. Mr. Putin says he will work with both France and the United States to eradicate ISIS, and the French suggest that even President Bashar Assad of Syria and the militias trying to oust Mr. Assad are welcome to join the fight to kill ISIS, not to contain it, which is a fool’s errand.

Mr. Assad and his regime are the sticking point preventing Washington and Moscow from working together, though both are threatened by ISIS and their ilk. Mr. Obama insists that ISIS is only a reaction to the Assad regime, and once he is gone moderates would come to power and the birds would sing again in Syria. Mr. Putin disagrees. The Syrian despot has been a Russian ally for a long time and the Russians maintain a naval base in Syria. The Russians do not abandon an ally easily.

Mr. Putin argues that abandoning Mr. Assad in the hope — and hardly the expectation — that a moderate government will replace him, forgets what has happened in Iraq, Egypt and Libya where the West achieved the “regime change” that was supposed to have brought moderates to power. Where, he asks, are the moderates in those countries, and where are they in Damascus?

Mr. Obama and his men have not found them, but there are factions and fighters far more interested in toppling the Assad regime than in fighting ISIS. One such is Lt. Col. Fares al-Bayoush of the “Free Syrian Army, whose brave men shot the pilots of a Russian military plane as they hung helplessly suspended from their parachutes, and then shot down a Russian medical evacuation helicopter that had been dispatched to rescue them. Not exactly the reliable allies anyone could tolerate.

The French for once have got it right. Once willing to play about the margins with President Obama, making occasional war-like noises, President Hollande is eager now to skip the adolescent bickering and get down to serious business. Messrs. Putin and Obama should join him. Neither sent their forces to destroy the ISIS command center. Mr. Obama, armed with the best combat pilots in the world, has contented himself with taking out pickup trucks. Mr. Hollande liberated his pilots to target the enemy’s headquarters. If Mr. Hollande can persuade the chiefs in Moscow and Washington to work together against a ruthless common enemy, the evil men of ISIS will rue the day they challenged the forces of common decency.

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