My latest for The Century Foundation:
I went to Jordan in September to get a sense of one of America’s last major policy efforts in Syria: the “de-escalation” agreement covering Syria’s southwest. The de-escalation is the product of months of trilateral negotiations between the United States, Russia, and Jordan. So far it has yielded a clear reduction in violence – but its future is uncertain.
Beyond immediate practical steps like a ceasefire and, potentially, the reopening of a key border crossing with Jordan, the agreement seems not to outline any real future or political vision for Syria’s south – no one knows what comes next, and the mood in Amman is uneasy. Meanwhile, a separate U.S. government decision to cut off arms and salaries to southern rebels late this year threatens to destabilize the de-escalation. The move raises more questions about U.S. commitment to the south and its neighboring allies’ security.
The de-escalation seems worth saving, but it’s going to mean more work. It’s going to require the sort of forward-looking institutional groundwork that positions the south for successful reintegration into the Syrian state – not just dissolution and piecemeal “reconciliation” by the regime. And in the meantime, someone has to step in pay these fighters’ salaries, or the south’s going to go haywire.