The American Interest

Syria: Time for Maturity

A successful strategist is able to balance costs and benefits in the attainment of clearly defined objectives.  This task demands prioritizing: Primary and secondary political goals need to be articulated, and military resources allocated accordingly.

The Obama administration’s strategy for defeating the Islamic State (aka ISIS) has failed so far because a secondary objective—Washington’s a priori insistence that “Assad must go”—has hampered the quest for a political solution in Damascus.  In 2012 this demand stalled former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan’s initially promising attempt to negotiate a compromise agreement.  Its mindless repetition torpedoed the Geneva conference on Syria before it even started in January 2012.  The results have been disastrous for the Syrian people—a quarter of a million dead, nine million displaced—and conducive to the rise of ISIS and other extremist groups.

It is now obvious, as I have repeatedly argued over the years, that the staying power of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad is far greater than has been claimed by successive U.S. policymakers.  The secret of its resilience lies in the fact that no “moderate opposition” exists, and that millions of Syrians are horrified by the alternative.  That fact is confirmed by the abject failure of President Obama’s $500 million...

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