War on the Rocks: “A Deadly Delusion: Were Syria’s Rebels Ever Going to Defeat the Jihadists?”

New from me for War on the Rocks:

“A Deadly Delusion: Were Syria’s Rebels Ever Going to Defeat the Jihadists?”

Whatever else Syria’s rebels were, and whatever the reasons for backing them – they were never going to be a “counter-terrorism force.”

As combating al-Qaeda and the Islamic State gradually subsumed America and the rest of the world’s policy priorities in Syria, opposition boosters increasingly argued for backing Syria’s rebels in “counter-terrorism” terms. But this argument was never real. There were only sao many times rebels could work alongside (or under) jihadists, or stand aside while jihadists liquidated rival factions, before it became clear they would never be a useful counter-terrorism partner.

Yet because of outside policymakers and analysts’ simplistic sectarian logic and unhelpful repetition of opposition tropes, the policy debate on Syria got more and more disengaged from this reality. And in the end, there was no necessary reckoning over the opposition’s entanglements with jihadists until it was too late.

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The Century Foundation / Carnegie Middle East Center: “Reform, Revolution, Culture: How to Resist Arab Authoritarianism?”

Below is the video of our panel from the “Arab Politics beyond the Uprisings” launch event, held on July 13, 2017 at Beirut’s Carnegie Middle East Center. The panel featured me, Asya El-Meehy, and Aron Lund, and was moderated by Michael Wahid Hanna.

For a full write-up of the event (including video of the second panel), see “Reform, Revolution, Culture: How to Resist Arab Authoritarianism?

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Carnegie Middle East Center’s Diwan: “What’s Next in Idlib?”

I talk to Carnegie Middle East Center’s Diwan – two weeks ago, so before Hayat Tahrir al-Sham / Jabhat al-Nusrah’s outright takeover – about the situation in rebel Idlib:

Carnegie page: http://carnegie-mec.org/diwan/72611

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“مركز كارنيغي للشرق الأوسط: “ما الخطوة التالية في إدلب؟

مقابلتي مع “مركز كارنيغي للشرق الأوسط” (باللغة العربية) عن آفاق محافظة إدلب والشمال السوري المحرر:

ملاحظة: تم تسجيل المقابلة قبل الأحداث الأخيرة وفرض هيئة تحرير الشام / جبهة النصرة لسيطرتها على مفاصل الشمال.

والرابط الأساسي: http://carnegie-mec.org/diwan/72613

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The Century Foundation: “America Had Already Lost Its Covert War in Syria—Now It’s Official”

New from me at The Century Foundation:

America Had Already Lost Its Covert War in Syria—Now It’s Official

President Trump has shut down America’s covert program to arm and train Syrian rebels fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

There’s been some rending of clothing over this, but – let’s be real – the program was doomed. By the time Trump took office, the program no longer made sense, if it ever did. The United States couldn’t just keep fueling a war that had no definable end and feeding a rebel host body from which al-Qaeda could suck blood.

Now it’s over – America’s covert war in Syria is finished. With America’s halfway commitment to regime change behind us, it’s time to look forward.

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Foreign Affairs: “Washington’s Dead End in Syria”

New from me for Foreign Affairs today:

“Washington’s Dead End in Syria”

In Syria, the United States may have won a victory over the Islamic State that only lasts so long as the U.S. sticks around indefinitely. Because of the specific local partner on which America has relied – the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) – we seemingly can’t withdraw without sparking a Turkish-Kurdish conflagration, a maelstrom that would allow ISIS to resurge. But the alternative is sponsoring a northeast Syria demi-state at odds with all its neighbors, putting American lives on the line to sustain a nexus of regional instability and solidify the effective partition of Syria.

This is… sub-ideal. If possible, we need to find a way out.

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Yousef al-Qaradhawi and the “Children Bomb” (Updated)

(Updated below with response from Declan Walsh / the New York Times.)

In Declan Walsh’s 16 July New York Times article on Qatar’s tendency to host politically iffy guests, he illustrates the controversy surrounding Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradhawi with a particularly inflammatory quote:

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I don’t love this quote, which I think is over-truncated and probably unfair. It’s from an April 2002 episode of Qaradhawi’s religious question-and-answer show on Al Jazeera, “Shari’ah and Life.” The original quote, in Arabic:

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And the English translation below. For clarity: Qaradhawi is being asked about Palestinian minors carrying out suicide attacks, despite Hamas’s call for them to refrain.

“I say that even though this shows, of course, a lack of discipline, it also shows that these youth have had enough, and that they want to die as martyrs on the path of God. This desire for martyrdom is a tremendous spiritual strength, one the Israelis don’t possess. The Israelis have the nuclear (al-dhariyyah) bomb, but we have the bomb of these offspring (al-dhuriyyah) – these offspring who desire martyrdom and this death, that’s what we possess. So these human bombs need to continue until… until liberation. That is, from men, from women. We salute these heroes, male and female: Wafaa Idris and Ayat al-Akhras, and Andalib and Nidhal and Fulanah. I don’t remember all their names. I salute them and congratulate them and call for more of these heroic acts of martyrdom from our brothers and sisters, from our sons and daughters. And I ask these youth to obey the orders of the commanders so their lives don’t go to waste. Maybe if they entered into an organization that can organize things, so things are put in their place.”

The quote has also featured and been clipped elsewhere. But it’s typically at least included the “nuclear bomb” reference that completes Qaradhawi’s rhetorical contrast, even if the Arabic pun is lost in translation – see here, for example.

I honestly can’t decide how much I object to the New York Times version of the quote. At a minimum, it excises the quote’s middle section without the use of ellipsis, so it’s not technically accurate.

But my gut sense is that this quote implies – without context – that Qaradhawi is specifically advocating the use of child suicide bombers as a tactic, as opposed to hailing suicide attacks more broadly and making a rhetorical point about how Palestinian youths’ spirit of resistance and sacrifice is evidence of the Palestinian people’s moral strength.

Obviously, this is hair-splitting. And it’s not like Qaradhawi’s not saying some out-there stuff. As the full quote shows, Qaradhawi’s still super-in on suicide bombings. And he’s sympathetic to the motivation behind minors’ suicide attacks, even if he advocates that they should yield to the directives of Hamas commanders.

Anyway, I just wanted to register a minor objection to what I thought was a minor (I assume inadvertent) distortion by Walsh and the Times.

Update: Below is Declan Walsh / the Times‘s response:

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