Attacking Adolf Hitler's Germany benefited moral monster Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union. That inescapable fact of World War II doesn't mean it wasn't worth fighting Nazis. Under the circumstances, allying with Stalin to beat Hitler was the right call. But the consequences of that fraught alliance were themselves horrific. To ignore its downsides would be to misunderstand the real choices America faced.
Today in Syria, the United States faces another set of harrowing tradeoffs. Syria's leader, Bashar al-Assad, is a murderous dictator. The various rebel groups trying to wrest the country from his control include ISIS, a radical Sunni militia. To strike Assad, as Obama threatened to do last summer, would help ISIS. To strike ISIS, as the Obama administration is threatening to do right now, would help Assad. Those are the unsavory choices confronting all who favor intervention. And while the prospect of aiding and abetting Assad or ISIS doesn't decisively prove that intervention is unwise, it is at least a factor that Americans ought to confront with open eyes, rather than pretending the tradeoff away.
The New York Times is helping us to pretend. "Mr. Obama, who has repeatedly called for the ouster of Mr. Assad, is loath to be seen as aiding the Syrian government, even inadvertently," the newspaper reports. "As a result the Pentagon is drafting military options that would strike the militant Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, near the largely erased border between those two nations, as opposed to more deeply inside Syria. The administration is also moving to bolster American support for the moderate Syrian rebels who view Mr. Assad as their main foe."