Paul Pillar

Non-Accomplishment in Syria

This latest turn in the Syrian war has been an occasion for critics of the Trump administration to decry anew an absence of a U.S. strategy regarding Syria.  Although in many cases accusations of “there is no strategy” are another way of saying “I don’t like the current strategy,” in this case the accusation is true.  Any careful observer of Trump would be hard-pressed to discern an approach clear enough and consistent enough to be worthy of the name “strategy”.  But if the standard is to be not just clarity and consistency but also a sensible and cost-effective approach toward upholding U.S. interests, then the paucity of good ideas is not restricted to the Trump administration.  The difficulty in defining a U.S. mission in Syria reflects the fact that there simply is no post-Islamic State U.S. interest in Syria that would be worth the costs and risk of an indefinite U.S. military intervention there, in the air or on the ground.

Schools of thought that believe any nasty situation overseas ought to have U.S.-centric solution find that hard to accept.  But the reality is that, first, the Assad regime is on its way to winning the Syrian civil war.  And second, events in Syria matter far less to U.S. interests than they do to that regime, and even less than they do to the regime’s Russian and Iranian backers, for whom the alliance with Syria has been for decades their strongest and most consistent entrée into the Arab world.  Those incontrovertible facts undermine any notion of using U.S. military force as leverage to gain a better deal for the Syrian people.

Image: U.S. President Donald Trump makes a statement about Syria at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 13, 2018. 

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