New from me for The Century Foundation:
“Desert Base Is Displaced Syrians’ Last Line of Defense”
In the Badiyah desert, the Syrian regime’s eastward advance has jammed together America’s covert war in Syria, its overt campaign against the Islamic State, and two camps holding tens of thousands of vulnerable displaced people, all in one shrinking space.
The United States and Russia reached a “deconfliction” arrangement to protect U.S.-led Coalition forces in the Tanf base – but now the Coalition presence at Tanf is all that protects the camps from advancing regime and allied forces.
The Coalition isn’t there to protect civilians, it’s there to fight the Islamic State – and around the base, there’s no more Islamic State. The U.S.-led Coalition won’t stay in this base forever, even if it’s unlikely to leave just yet. Now U.S. planners have to figure out how to safeguard these displaced Syrians and produce a solution for these camps, which have merged with America’s more hard-edged covert and overt efforts to become a single intractable problem.
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.
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?”
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
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
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.
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.