The Century Foundation: “A Syria Policy for Trump’s America”

In a new report for The Century Foundation, I lay out a revised Syria strategy for the United States under President-elect Donald Trump:

U.S. Syria policy had been due for a major rethink, even before the election of Trump. America’s publicly articulated goals in Syria have been impossible for some time now, at least in their most optimistic formulation and using any realistic means.

We’re likely now to see a course change under President-elect Trump, who has prioritized more cooperative relations with Russia and expressed his desire to coordinate with Russia to fight jihadists in Syria. But even as the United States reevaluates its Syria posture and potentially disengages from the Syrian opposition, it must be careful not to overcorrect.

We need to be realistic about the limits of what America can achieve in Syria, whether as part of Obama’s old agenda or Trump’s likely new one. And we need to avoid overcommitting in the service of dubious ends.

I argue:

  • The Syrian opposition is a problematic partner, but the United States should not turn instead to the Assad regime. The idea is to extricate America from the Syrian war, not to join an escalation on behalf of the other side.
  • America should not walk away from the opposition (and U.S. allies) abruptly and without guaranteeing opposition partners some soft landing.
  • The United States should continue to fight Islamic State, but not so single-mindedly and recklessly that it endangers other key U.S. interests.
  • And America must continue to invest in Syrian civilian well-being, inside and outside Syria, both for the sake of those civilians and to mitigate the war’s long-term destabilizing impact on the Middle East and the world.
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