Friday, September 16, 2016

Let Russia Own Syria

The Syrian agreement recently concluded by Secretary of State John Kerry has spurred guarded optimism for a solution to the five-year-old conflict. In exchange for a ceasefire between the Assad regime and U.S.-backed rebels, the United States and Russia have agreed to coordinate airstrikes against ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, the local Al Qaeda affiliate.

While the likelihood is slim that the ceasefire will hold, the fundamental problem isn’t the deal’s implementation. Rather, the reality that in a shattered Syria, neither airstrikes nor rebels will achieve America’s chief goal of dislodging ISIS.

From the beginning, our policy in Syria has suffered from an inherent contradiction. The United States insists on Assad’s ouster as a condition of peace, but the groups that have proven most effective against his forces are hardline Islamic militias, which are themselves anti-American.

For years, the United States has ignored this fact and continues to arm and train “moderate” rebel groups. This has fed costly failures, such as a $500 million Pentagon project which trained only five fighters.

In other cases, U.S.-sponsored groups saw many members either defecting to Nusra or transferring U.S.-supplied weapons to them. By continuing to arm and support the opposition, despite clear signs of the regime’s resilience, the United States ultimately helped transform the initial uprising into a bloody stalemate that destroyed the country and produced millions of refugees.

Despite carrying out nearly five thousand airstrikes and killing thousands of ISIS fighters in Syria since 2014, the United States has neither defeated ISIS nor prevented it from carrying out devastating attacks abroad. Similarly, when Russia entered the conflict with an extensive bombing campaign against opposition forces in 2015, the possibility of a victory against Assad largely disappeared.

The Kremlin’s forceful intervention in Syria has presented the United States with a set of stark choices. One option would be...
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