In military terms, the fall of Daraa, in south-western Syria, to Iranian and regime forces last July eliminated the last insurgent-held pocket not dominated by jihadists. Politically, it had profound effects, demonstrating American disengagement and Israel’s misperceptions of the Syrian landscape, particularly Russia’s role in it.
Recent signs of renewed insurgency in Daraa, however, underline how far from over Syria’s war is and how badly the West has mishandled the crisis. Continue reading →
Syria has broken down as a functioning entity. There were some who saw in the takeover of Aleppo City last month by the coalition of states and militias that supports Bashar al-Assad’s regime the beginning of the end of the war. The pro-Assad coalition will make further territorial gains in 2017, but peace—even the peace of the graveyard—is still a long way off, and unlikely to ever arrive while Assad remains in power. The West, unwilling and apparently unable to remove him, nonetheless has vital interests in Syria that cannot be outsourced and must be secured by navigating a fragmented state. Continue reading →
A version of this article was published at NOW Lebanon.
Rebels from the Southern Front in northwest Deraa, March 2015
In early November, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee released a report challenging the British government’s proposal to extend airstrikes from Iraq into Syria against the Islamic State (IS). Among other things, the report asked for a proposed political path to ending the Syrian civil war, a necessary prerequisite to defeating IS. On Thursday, Prime Minister David Cameron released a response, part of which said:
Military action against ISIL will also relieve the pressure on the moderate opposition, whose survival is crucial for a successful transition to a more inclusive Syrian government. Syria has not been, and should not be, reduced to a choice between Assad or ISIL. Although the situation on the ground is complex, our assessment is that there are about 70,000 Syrian opposition fighters on the ground who do not belong to extremist groups.
This number has blown up into a major political row, with many Members of Parliament and pundits taking their personal unfamiliarity with Syria’s military landscape as evidence that it cannot be so. The Labour Opposition has made the number of non-extremist rebels a focal point of their challenge to the Prime Minister’s proposal for moving forward in Syria, and one of Cameron’s own Conservative MPs referred to the number as “magical”. The challenge to the number is part of a longer-term trend, where a narrative has become prevalent that there are no moderate opposition forces left in Syria. The corollary of this view is usually the argument that the West should side with the “secular” Assad regime as the “lesser evil” to put down a radical Islamist insurrection.
Reuters reports that since al-Qaeda in Syria has gravely weakened the nationalist rebels on the Northern Front, an effort is afoot to shift the focus for bolstering moderate insurrectionists to the south, namely Bashar az-Zoubi, his Liwa al-Yarmouk, and the wider “Southern Front”. Continue reading →
The short answer is “yes”. The longer answer is, “It depends on how good you want,” and discovering the answer to that relies on having a strategic vision of what you want from Syria. Continue reading →
A little over a week ago, President Obama was asked in the Philippines about his foreign policy. It was a rather complex question that asked for Obama’s “vision,” “doctrine,” and “guiding principle“—and also how he “answer[s] those critics who say they think the doctrine is weakness.” The President gave a 949-word answer. To say that it was defensive, disingenuous, and wrong-headed would be to say the least of it. Continue reading →
Bashar az-Zoubi, leader of Liwa al-Yarmouk, the biggest brigade in Deraa and one of the biggest on the Southern Front. He is one of the main people President Obama’s ostensible switch to focussing on the south of Syria is supposed to benefit.