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.
- 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.
New from me, as part of The Century Foundation’s “Arab Politics beyond the Uprisings”: “Keeping the Lights On in Rebel Idlib.”
The brief is a dive into local governance in rebel-held Idlib province, where residents have attempted to fill the administrative void left by the Assad regime. In the process, Idlib’s governance and service sector has become another space for Idlibi civilians and Islamist and jihadist armed groups – which have developed their own service bodies – to compete for popular support and legitimacy, even as they work to keep foreign assistance coming and to keep Idlib livable in the middle of a civil war.
For more on “Arab Politics beyond the Uprisings,” a project documenting political change and transformation in a post-Spring Arab world, read Thanassis Cambanis’s introduction here: https://tcf.org/content/report/introduction-arab-politics-beyond-uprisings/
New from me at Foreign Policy:
The Assad regime invited us into Damascus, in an apparent attempt to demonstrate its openness and appeal to Western opinion. But it mostly just showed us how it hadn’t changed – and that maybe it doesn’t know how.
Assad Will Talk, But He Won’t Negotiate
New for the Century Foundation:
I talk with Thanassis Cambanis about my attendance at last week’s conference-junket in Damascus and what the Syrian government seemed to want from the event.
New from me for The Century Foundation:
Recent diplomatic efforts to reach a ceasefire in Syria and facilitate an end to the country’s war have been mostly bilateral, negotiated by the United States and Russia in Geneva. But U.S. diplomacy has been underpinned by a direct channel to a core set of rebel factions necessary to the success of any ceasefire. The running dialogue with these factions has seemingly been key to U.S. leverage in Geneva and is likely to figure prominently into other agreements going forward.
Video of The Century Foundation’s 19 September panel on Syria, featuring me, Deborah Amos, Thanassis Cambanis, and Michael Wahid Hanna.
New from me for The Century Foundation:
Rebel Darayya has fallen. The Damascus suburb meant vastly different things to each side of the war, but both sides seem to recognize the town’s fall as a harbinger of regime victory on what is arguably Syria’s most important front—the interior of the western corridor running down Syria’s Mediterranean coast to Damascus, sometimes called “useful Syria.”