Showing posts with label Syria. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Syria. Show all posts

25 April 2017

Why Is Trump Fighting ISIS in Syria?


Thomas L. Friedman 

The Trump foreign policy team has been all over the map on what to do next in Syria — topple the regime, intensify aid to rebels, respond to any new attacks on innocent civilians. But when pressed, there is one idea everyone on the team seems to agree on: “The defeat of ISIS,” as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson put it.

Well, let me add to their confusion by asking just one question: Why?

Why should our goal right now be to defeat the Islamic State in Syria? Of course, ISIS is detestable and needs to be eradicated. But is it really in our interest to be focusing solely on defeating ISIS in Syria right now?

Let’s go through the logic: There are actually two ISIS manifestations.

One is “virtual ISIS.” It is satanic, cruel and amorphous; it disseminates its ideology through the internet. It has adherents across Europe and the Muslim world. In my opinion, that ISIS is the primary threat to us, because it has found ways to deftly pump out Sunni jihadist ideology that inspires and gives permission to those Muslims on the fringes of society who feel humiliated — from London to Paris to Cairo — to recover their dignity via headline-grabbing murders of innocents.

The other incarnation is “territorial ISIS.” It still controls pockets in western Iraq and larger sectors of Syria. Its goal is to defeat Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria — plus its Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah allies — and to defeat the pro-Iranian Shiite regime in Iraq, replacing both with a caliphate.

19 April 2017

IT DIDN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY: FINDING LEVERAGE IN SYRIA

AARON STEIN

For special access to experts and other members of the national security community, check out the new War on the Rocks membership.

The execution of Assad’s April 4 chemical weapons attack was a textbook use of these weapons. This suggests that the decision to use them was military in nature, not a complicated exercise in signaling to the outside world. Reported Russian military activity in the area clearly implicates Moscow as one of two things: either an impotent and clueless backer of the Syria regime, incapable of monitoring the activities of an air force it is co-located with, or party to a war crime

At President Donald Trump’s order, a barrage of cruise missiles collided with the Syrian air base that was purportedly the source of the chemical attack on Kahn Sheikhoun. This use of force has been widely praised and hailed as a potential turning point in the Syrian conflict. However, the use of limited cruise missile strikes to change state behavior has a poor historical track record. It is too early to tell if the strikes will contribute to the immediate goal of deterring future chemical weapon use in Syria or even a second goal now articulated by some members of the Trump administration: forcing Russia to reevaluate its support for Bashar al Assad.

Chuck Spinney explains why both parties love the Syria poison gas story

By Franklin “Chuck” Spinney

Summary: Trump has received much applause for bombing Syria. Republicans, Democrats, journalists, and geopolitical gurus all cheered. Here insightful defense analyst Chuck Spinney asks inconvenient questions about the lack of evidence and illogic of the “Assad did it” story. This is a follow-up to Before believing the new Syria sarin attack story, ask if the 2013 story was true


If there was a centerpiece to Hillary Clinton’s failed campaign for President of the United States, it was her struggle to convince the American people that Donald Trump was congenitally incapable of reacting rationally when surprised by a dangerous international crisis. She struggled futilely to contrast her experience and gravitas to Trump’s reckless impulsiveness. 

In a rational world, the recent Trumpian brain fart of firing 59 cruise missiles (worth about $90 million) at a nearly empty — and forewarned — Syrian airfield should be a candidate case study to test Clinton’s psychological theory. But it won’t be. Mr. Trump merely did what Ms. Clinton called on him to do a few hours prior to the attack; see this video. Moreover, the political response to Trump’s attack has been one of widespread bipartisan support, with particular enthusiasm among senior Democrats. For example, see … 

16 April 2017

SYRIA STRIKE OPENS DOORS FOR U.S. STRATEGY

Genevieve Casagrande

The U.S strike against an Assad regime base in northern Syria on April 6, 2017 opened the door to a reorientation of American strategy in the Middle East. President Trump’s action could reset the terms of America’s confrontation of other hostile states, such as North Korea. President Trump may be shifting away from a narrow focus on the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) as the strategic priority in Syria and toward a new approach. It remains unclear whether he will take additional action against the Assad regime, but his statement after the strike appeared to signal an emerging anti-Assad policy. Responses from major international powers and key regional actors indicate that these parties perceive the strike represents a possible strategic inflection rather than an isolated incident. President Trump has the opportunity to exploit the effects of his limited action to pursue America’s strategic goals.

Regional actors responded as if a wider American reorientation against Assad is possible. Traditional U.S. partners in the region like Saudi Arabia and Jordan supported the strike. Turkey also praised the strike and called for additional U.S. action against the Assad regime. These reactions indicate that the strike created an opportunity for President Trump to repair America’s relationships with traditional partners, which had begun to reorient toward Russia or to act unilaterally in dangerous ways in the absence of American leadership. European states under Russian pressure also supported the strike, indicating that the U.S. can still shape European policies toward Syria. President Trump may have an opportunity to leverage European support for counter-Assad measures to reengage Europe on the need to confront Russia in Syria. Actors deeper within the Russo-Iranian orbit, including Egypt and Iraq’s Shi’a political parties, expressed caution.

SYRIA: A JOURNEY INTO THE UNKNOWN

MICHAEL HANNA AND SAM HELLER


There is reason for some extremely cautious optimism about last Thursday’s U.S. missile strikes on a Syrian regime air base. America has thus far avoided some of the most obvious, dangerous pitfalls of any possible intervention in Syria. So, at a minimum, Americans should be happy not to find themselves in a worst-case scenario.

But there is certainly still reason for concern. Washington has endeavored to clearly communicate the limited objectives of its strikes, but there is nonetheless substantial ambiguity about American aims, much of it of Washington’s own making. Any reaction or counter-escalation by U.S. adversaries is now largely out of America’s control, and some opportunists are already trying to repurpose U.S. action for their own, less focused ends.

15 April 2017

The Country with the Most to Gain from Trump is not Russia; It’s China


China—not Russia—has the greatest potential to gain international influence over the long run. China’s goal to become the global superpower runs straight through its overseas development and climate change efforts; exactly where President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint will decrease U.S. influence the most.

Russia dominates our headlines in ways not seen since the Cold War. There are reported ties to the Trump campaign, Kremlin-sanctioned interference in the 2016 elections, silence over Vladimir Putin’s crackdown on anticorruption protesters, and regular trafficking in dangerous false equivalency “whataboutisms.” With all this focus, one could plausibly assume that Russia has the most to gain from the Trump presidency.

That would, however, be a mistake. China is both better positioned and has much more to gain.

U.S. withdrawal from its obligations to the liberal international order—which would be the effect of President Trump’s budget blueprint if passed by Congress—creates unprecedented space for Chinese opportunism. China is poised to replace the United States as global trade leader, and President Trump’s renunciation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership has given it an opportunity to strengthen regional trade opportunities that were once available to the United States. It is no secret that China desires even more global influence, a pursuit that, to a certain extent, has been checked by U.S. global leadership. Until now.

TRUMP’S ATTACK ON SYRIA: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY

RYAN EVANS

At the order of President Donald Trump, the U.S. military lobbed dozens of cruise missiles at a Syrian air base from which a chemical weapons attack was launched this week that killed Syrian civilians — to include children. Trump’s critics are already denouncing the strikes as a sign of his recklessness and America’s deepening and unwise involvement in the Syrian civil war. His supporters are celebrating the attack as a sign of the sort of American resolve that has been missing for the last eight years as well as a message to the world’s bad guys. So which is it? Should we condemn or praise Trump’s decision? The answer, of course, is not so easy. I offer my thoughts below. It is late, I am tired, and I have more questions than answers, but here it goes.

The Good

When the Obama administration was leaning towards a military response to the 2013 Syrian chemical attack to enforce its declared red line — even though I did not favor an attack without broad-based popular, Congressional, and allied support — I observed that anything less than a large attack on Assad’s ability to project airpower would not send a strong enough message. We all know what happened next, of course, and President Obama has been heavily criticized for not acting (but I am of the view that the bigger mistake was the red line, not the failure to enforce it). The fact that most of Assad’s chemical arsenal was subsequently destroyed per an agreement brokered by Russia provided a net gain for U.S. interests.

Syria and Chemical Weapons. What Now?

The Syrian government is accused of using nerve gas in a recent attacks on a rebel village in Idlib province. This would be a clear violation of the 2013 Russian brokered deal where Syria surrendered all its chemical weapons in return for no foreign intervention (as the U.S. has promised) because chemical weapons were used. An August 21 2013 attack used nerve gas to kill over 1,400 people in a rebel controlled village outside Damascus. The evidence was overwhelming for the 2013 attack and this latest one in Idlib is equally incriminating. This time the United States quickly retaliated by launching sixty cruise missiles (from two warships in the Mediterranean) at the Syrian Shayrat air base in Homs province. Most of the Syrian air strikes in northern Syria are flown out of Shayat, which is now inoperable. Russia and Iran, the two major allies of the Assads, are under pressure to make a suitable response. Initially both nations simply condemned this violation of Syrian sovereignty and warned of serious consequences. This could be serious, or not. Iran has been calling for the destruction of the United States (and Israel) since the 1980s but so far, aside from a few terror attacks, it’s been mostly talk. Russia has become more hostile to the United States since a new government took power in 1999 and revived the old Cold War attitude that the Americans were out to destroy Russia in any number of devious ways and were responsible for most of the internal and external problems Russia faced. As with Iran, this attitude had more to do with local politics (keeping an unpopular ruler in power) than with reality. The “blame America” angle only works if you can convince your people that the U.S. will back off if confronted. That’s what happened when Iran (in 2012) and Russia (in 2016) openly intervened to support the Assads. The Russians were quite proud of themselves for how they get the Americans to back down in 2013 in the aftermath of the Assads using nerve gas. Neither Russia nor Iran want outright war with the United States, even though Russia has threatened to use nukes against the United States to discourage too much military support for Ukraine (which Russia is trying to annex parts of). Russia may be able to get some support (in forcing the Americans to back off) by appealing to the NATO countries that criticized the recent American cruise missile attack. In other words Russia and Iran don’t have any good options here.

Weapons of the Syrian War: Overview

BY BEN WATSONREAD BIO

From chlorine gas to Kalashnikovs, barrel bombs to cruise missiles, the Syrian conflict shows what 21st-century militaries and armed groups can bring to bear.

The Assad regime’s bloody reaction to the 2011 Arab Spring ignited one of the most lethal rebellions in modern history, placing it in the crosshairs of more than 1,000 armed groups: rebels, Kurds, defectors, extremists and countless others, including foreign military experts. Taken together, the opposition is better equipped than any the world has seen in generations, according to Charles Lister, Middle East analyst and resident fellow at the Middle East Institute.

“Syria represents the Afghanistan of the 21st century, but on steroids. The scale of jihadist militancy in Syria is one thing; the capability that they have acquired,” Lister said, “is at least in my opinion unprecedented in modern history.” 

Syria represents the Afghanistan of the 21st century, but on steroids.

CHARLES LISTER, SENIOR FELLOW AT THE MIDDLE EAST INSTITUTE

The weapons on display in the Syrian war include some of the world’s most advanced and deadly, thanks to the U.S.-led campaign against the Islamic State and Russia’s own arrival in 2015.

Hundreds of thousands of people have died in the war; the UN stopped counting at 191,000 three years ago, but estimates range from a quarter million to at least 470,000. The conflict has uprooted half of Syria’s pre-war population, scattering five million people beyond its borders.

Start your tour of the myriad weapons of the Syria War with the timeline and video below. Then scroll down for links to the next pages.

14 April 2017

US Airstrikes in Syria: Impact on China, Israel and the Middle East

By Mercy A. Kuo


A Trump-Putin deal on S-400 not firing in Syria?

By Bharat Karnad

After President Donald Trump ordered an air strike on the Syrian Shayrat Air Force Base in retaliation for the Syrian chemical weapons attack on the town of Khan Shiekhoun, one of the biggest concerns for the USAF ops planners was the presence in the area of the deadly Russian S-400 air defence system. Well, the slow-moving, low flying Tomahawk cruise missiles could have been shot out of the sky by the S-400. the question is why weren’t they fired?

One can speculate that there was a deal struck between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin that permitted the US to carry out the strikes by 59 Tomahawks unmolested by the S-400 anti-aircraft missiles so long as the cruise missiles did not target the tarmac nor overly inconvenience the Syrian Air Force. Sure enough, as the Independent newspaper of London reports, Syrian attack aircraft, parked in hardened shelters dotting the air field, or flown out for the duration of the US attack, began staging out of this base the day after the cruise strikes. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/syria-air-strikes-us-bashar-al-assad-regime-air-base-bombed-shayrat-f-you-donald-trump-lindsey-a7675851.html)

In fact Trump lamely explained that other than the runways were targeted because modern technology facilitated very fast repairs and recovery and, implicitly, that the cruise missiles would be wasted. This raises the question: What exactly did the Tomahawks take out?

Apparently not the runways, nor the ATC paraphernalia. That leaves only the radar and communications systems. Perhaps, these were was knocked off but without destroying them fully. Otherwise, the air activity out of Shayrat couldn’t have resumed so quickly and without a decent interval for capability restoration.

Something smells here! And the odour is of a Trump-Putin deal — the US cries retribution and is allowed by Russia a minor score against Shayrat even as the Trump-Putin communications line is not endangered, kept open for future mutually beneficial transactions. There’s no other explanation that so many cruise missile with great terminal accuracy do so little damage.

The U.S. Attacks on Syria: What Comes Next?

By Anthony H. Cordesman

No one should underestimate the value of the cruise missile strikes the United States launched on April 7, 2017. Attacking a single air base will scarcely cripple the Syrian Air Force, nor will it limit Syria's ability to use its remaining chemical weapons. The strikes have, however, sent a very important signal to both America's friends, its critics, and its enemies.

One key message is that in the first real crisis of his Presidency, President Donald J. Trump listened to his expert advisors, proved to be flexible in changing his position, chose an option proportionate to the task, communicated effectively with Russia to avoid Russian losses, and acted quickly. He neither failed to act, nor did he overreact, and he sent a clear message that the United States would not only confront a localized threat—but would act in spite of Russian pressure.

The U.S. strikes will not, by themselves, alter the course of the Syrian civil war, nor will they reduce the overall level of civilian suffering. The strikes may well, however, have set a precedent that will keep Assad from using chemical weapons again, as well as send a broader message that the United States will stand up to Russia. They have also shown that the United States will still use force when necessary—something many states in the Middle East and outside it had come to question—along with U.S. willingness to establish real-world "red lines" in dealing with any power that uses weapons of mass destruction.

13 April 2017

The U.S. Attacks on Syria: What Comes Next?

By Anthony H. Cordesman 

No one should underestimate the value of the cruise missile strikes the United States launched on April 7, 2017. Attacking a single air base will scarcely cripple the Syrian Air Force, nor will it limit Syria's ability to use its remaining chemical weapons. The strikes have, however, sent a very important signal to both America's friends, its critics, and its enemies. 

One key message is that in the first real crisis of his Presidency, President Donald J. Trump listened to his expert advisors, proved to be flexible in changing his position, chose an option proportionate to the task, communicated effectively with Russia to avoid Russian losses, and acted quickly. He neither failed to act, nor did he overreact, and he sent a clear message that the United States would not only confront a localized threat—but would act in spite of Russian pressure. 

The U.S. strikes will not, by themselves, alter the course of the Syrian civil war, nor will they reduce the overall level of civilian suffering. The strikes may well, however, have set a precedent that will keep Assad from using chemical weapons again, as well as send a broader message that the United States will stand up to Russia. They have also shown that the United States will still use force when necessary—something many states in the Middle East and outside it had come to question—along with U.S. willingness to establish real-world "red lines" in dealing with any power that uses weapons of mass destruction. 

The U.S. action may also have a broader impact in limiting Assad's use of state terrorism against his own people. The United States has focused far too much on ISIS and extremist violence by non-state actors. State terrorism by a secular authoritarian like Assad is no better than violent religious extremism by a non-state actors, and the impact of chemical weapons and barrel bombs have shown that state terrorism can be, in fact, far worse. 

TRUMP’S ATTACK ON SYRIA: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY

RYAN EVANS

For special access to experts and other members of the national security community, check out the new War on the Rocks membership.

At the order of President Donald Trump, the U.S. military lobbed dozens of cruise missiles at a Syrian air base from which a chemical weapons attack was launched this week that killed Syrian civilians — to include children. Trump’s critics are already denouncing the strikes as a sign of his recklessness and America’s deepening and unwise involvement in the Syrian civil war. His supporters are celebrating the attack as a sign of the sort of American resolve that has been missing for the last eight years as well as a message to the world’s bad guys. So which is it? Should we condemn or praise Trump’s decision? The answer, of course, is not so easy. I offer my thoughts below. It is late, I am tired, and I have more questions than answers, but here it goes.

'Beyond a Red Line' The World at a Crossroads in Syria


The deployment of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime this week triggered a significant retaliation by the United States. Does this open the door for a Western intervention in the murderous conflict? By SPIEGEL Staff

On the day after 50 children, women and men died in Syria, likely from the nerve agent sarin, U.S. President Donald Trump sounded a bit like he had realized for the first time what it means to be president.

"I have to say that the world is a mess. I inherited a mess," Trump said on Wednesday during a joint press conference with King Abdullah II of Jordan. "I inherited a mess. We are going to fix it." It was almost as if he hadn't anticipated being forced to deal with problems as complicated as Syria. And perhaps he really hadn't.

Trump had just seen the most recent images of horror coming out of Syria -- in his office and on television. They showed children and adults in the small town of Khan Sheikhoun following an attack by Syrian dictator Bashar Assad's air force. The victims lay twitching on the ground, some of them already dead with eyes gazing into the void.

Piles of corpses could be seen, tiny bodies piled one on top of the other, all life extinguished. They were horrific, haunting images that immediately spread around the world and many Western governments have no doubt that they are the product of a chemical weapons attack on the residents of Khan Sheikhoun by Assad.

The images apparently deeply shook the U.S. president. "When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, babies, little babies, with a chemical gas that is so lethal," Trump said, "that crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line." It sounded as though he were already considering strikes in Syria.

12 April 2017

A Practical Guide for Avoiding Fallacies on Syria


U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) conducts strike operations.Ford Williams / U.S. Navy / Reuters

Like ​The Atlantic? Subscribe to ​The Atlantic Daily​, our free weekday email newsletter.

It’s remarkable just how little the basic contours of the Syria debate have changed, despite more than five years of brutal civil war. The same perceptions and misperceptions about intervention dominate today. In some ways, they are even worse now because of the distorting figure of President Donald Trump. Is it possible to separate one’s feelings about the man from the recognition that he is, whether we like it or not, our commander-in-chief? 

RELATED STORIES 

The Obama Doctrine, R.I.P. With this dilemma in mind, here’s a practical guide for navigating the key sticking points in this latest iteration of the Syria debate, from the perspective of someone who has called for direct intervention against Bashar al-Assad since early on the conflict.

Military action does not equal regime change. The two, understandably, have become conflated because of the Iraq war. But military action can help, rather than undermine, diplomatic efforts. It is abundantly clear that the Assad regime will not negotiate in good faith or make any significant concessions on its own. We’ve hoped for that since the earliest Arab League efforts in 2011. The credible threat of force (or its use) is the only thing that is likely to change Assad’s calculus. If his survival isn’t at stake, he has little reason to negotiate much of anything.Not everything is Iraq. There is the danger of seeing airstrikes as a low-risk catch-all solution, a kind of military pixie-dust. At the same time, though, not everything is an Iraq-style invasion. America has any number of choices in between these two models of engagement. In Bosnia, air power forced the Serbs to the negotiating table, eventually leading to the Dayton Accords (a key example of military action in the service of diplomacy). Similarly, Muammar al-Qaddafi’s regime showed an openness to talks only after the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya, with Qaddafi envoys engaging in cease-fire talks within weeks.

How Russia Will Respond to America's Missile Strike in Syria

Dave Majumdar

Russia is furious about American cruise missile strikes against Syria, which came as a response to the Assad regime’s widely reported use of chemical weapons against civilians during that nation’s long civil war.

Thus far, the Kremlin’s reaction has been angry rhetoric and suspension of an October 2015 channel that was established to deconflict U.S. and Russian military operations over Syria. Russia has also promised to bolster Syrian air defense capabilities as a result of the American strike. But Moscow is likely to take further retaliatory measures in Syria over the next few weeks.

“The President of Russia regards the U.S. airstrikes on Syria as an act of aggression against a sovereign state delivered in violation of international law under a far-fetched pretext,” the Kremlin said in an April 7 statement. “This move by Washington [the US airstrike on an air base in Syria] has dealt a serious blow to Russian-U.S. relations, which are already in a poor state.”

The Russians are almost certainly going to respond to the attack on Syria—but not directly against the United States. Rather, the Kremlin will channel its wrath against American-backed Syrian rebel groups. “My understanding of the likely response is: cut contacts and cooperation on Syria with the U.S.,” Russian defense and foreign policy expert Vasily Kashin, a professor at Moscow's Higher School of Economics (HSE) told The National Interest. “Specifically target and destroy pro-U.S. groups; bring additional forces there; maybe start some large scale exercise in Europe.”

By further weakening what remains of the pro-Western Syrian rebels, Russia would ensure Assad’s regime remains in power—protecting Moscow’s interests in the region. “That will likely eliminate U.S. influence on Syria and will probably cause losses among the intelligence personnel,” Kashin said. “Basically, the response would be the same as after the incident with Turkey. No attack on Turkey itself, but pro-Turkish groups, Turkish special operations and intelligence assets were specifically targeted and their losses were huge.”

One missile strike is not a strategy


By Fareed Zakaria 

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this column was published Thursday before news of President Trump’s decision to strike a Syrian air base. This version has been updated. 

There is much to applaud in President Trump’s decision to attack the Bashar al-Assad regime this week. It punished a regime that has engaged in war crimes against its own people. It upheld an international norm against chemical weapons. It ended Trump’s strange flirtation with Vladimir Putin on the Middle East. And, most significantly, it seems to reflect a belated recognition from Trump that he cannot simply put America first — that the president of the United States must act on behalf of broader interests and ideals. Trump, as candidate and as president, had avoided the language of global norms and international order. Yet in explaining his actions Thursday night, he invoked both and ended his remarks with a prayer that President Barack Obama would never have dared to make: “God bless America — and the entire world.” 

But as former defense secretary William Cohen pointed out Friday, “One strike doesn’t make a strategy.” U.S. policy on Syria remains unclear. The Trump administration had repeatedly announced that it had shifted away from the Obama administration’s calls for regime change in Syria. In fact, Trump had indicated that he was happy to leave the country to Assad as long as this would help defeat the Islamic State. Last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson basically affirmed that approach. On Tuesday, the day of the chemical attack on Idlib, White House press secretary Sean Spicer reiterated it. The missile strike appears to have reversed that policy. 

Stability Operations in Syria The Need for a Revolution in Civil-Military Affairs

Anthony H. Cordesman

An army engineer from the Russian International Mine Action Center disarms a booby trap 3 February 2017 in a residence in Aleppo, Syria. (Photo courtesy of Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation)

In an ideal world, the U.S. military would only have a military role. But, in practice, no one gets to fight the wars they want, and this is especially true today. The United States is deeply involved in wars that can only be won at the civil-military level, and where coming to grips with the deep internal divisions and tensions of the host country, and the pressures from outside states, are critical. Unless the United States adapts to this reality, it can easily lose the war at the civil level even when it wins at the military level. This is especially true in the case of the “failed states” where the United States is now fighting. The United States either has to hope for a near-miraculous improvement in the governance and capability of host-country partners, or focus on successful civil-military operations as being as important for success as combat.

So far, the United States has failed to recognize the sheer scale of the civil problems it faces in conducting military operations. It has failed to understand that it needs to carry out a revolution in civil-military affairs if it is to be successful in fighting failed-state wars that involve major counterinsurgency campaigns and reliance on host-country forces. The U.S. military role in Syria is a key case in point, and it illustrates all too clearly that any military effort to avoid dealing with the full consequences of the civil side of war can be a recipe for failure.

A Lack of Meaningful Directives and Doctrine

Part of the problem is that this is an area for which there is neither meaningful guidance nor doctrine. Department of Defense (DOD) Instruction Number 3000.05, Stability Operations, is so vague as to be meaningless.1 It defines stability operations as “an overarching term encompassing various military missions, tasks, and activities conducted outside the United States in coordination with other instruments of national power to maintain or reestablish a safe and secure environment, provide essential governmental services, emergency infrastructure reconstruction, and humanitarian relief.”2

1 April 2017

Will the United States Be a Victim of Its Own Success in Syria?

Nicholas A. Heras

The Trump team has options for stabilizing Syria, but each one comes with its own set of risks.

The ministerial meeting of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS held in Washington, DC was an important milestone on the path to the Trump team’s mission to fully defeat the would-be caliphate in Iraq and Syria. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson opened the proceedings by unequivocally stating that the ISIS threat would be the first priority of the new administration, and that in achieving that overarching objective, the United States would be invested in securing the stability of areas conquered from ISIS. Tillerson correctly identified Syria as a priority for stabilization after ISIS.

The challenge for the Trump administration in Syria is that the United States could be a victim of its own success: by prosecuting the campaign against ISIS, the U.S. military is building out an American zone of control on the ground in a large area of eastern Syria. Unlike in Iraq, where Baghdad is a state actor that the U.S. military has chosen to work by, with and through to take the fight to ISIS, the United States refuses to formally work with Damascus. It will only deconflict military operations targeting ISIS and Al Qaeda that the Russian military occasionally carries out on behalf of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Under both Obama and Trump, the United States has operated under the assumption that Syria is a geographic space, not a functioning state with sovereignty over all of its territory, and for all intents and purposes cutting al-Assad out of the process.