WASHINGTON—The Sunni militant advance in Iraq has reignited a debate in the Obama administration over its policy toward Syria, increasing pressure on the president to act more aggressively against a growing regional threat, according to current and former government officials.
Some argue that any U.S. military action against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, in Iraq will fall short if it doesn't hit the group's major strongholds in neighboring Syria. ISIS now occupies territory on both sides of the border.
Several compared the ability of militants to easily cross from their Syrian sanctuaries into Iraq to that of extremists based in Pakistan who stage attacks on U.S. interests in neighboring Afghanistan.
"Syria and Iraq are largely a single problem," said one senior defense official. "If we really get into this, you will have to look in to Syria to solve some of these problems."
The Obama administration is currently pushing for a political deal in Iraq that could inject confidence in the government in Baghdad. It hasn't reached agreement on the value of airstrikes against Islamic militants, and instead sent small military assessment teams to help Baghdad regain the upper hand on the battlefield.