Does the president really know what he’s getting into?.. The United States could pursue a limited strategy focused on one-off strikes in response to the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons. In that case, the strike on the air base from which this week’s chemical attack was launched will probably be enough. President Bashar al-Assad and his generals will get the message and stop using those types of weapons... The regime will continue to terrorize civilians through airstrikes, artillery and surface-to-surface missiles against densely populated areas. It will continue to employ tactics such as starvation sieges and population transfers to tear communities apart... And Assad’s forces and their Russian allies may up the scale of attacks to humiliate Trump and demonstrate the fecklessness of American military force. Thus, the pressure may grow on the United States to respond, and it may be hard for Trump to resist.. The United States could target a wide array of facilities to compel Assad, such as weapons factories, major military bases, even ministries in Damascus responsible for the war effort. Using the threat of missile strikes instead of flying in manned aircraft to drop bombs is much less dangerous. The United States would not have to first destroy all of Syria’s air defenses.. the United States would then work with moderate armed groups in opposition areas to marginalize extremists and stabilize this territory... If the U.S. military inadvertently kills a significant number of Russians, tensions between the world’s two largest nuclear weapons states could skyrocket... The regime would probably respond with the same scorched-earth tactics it has used elsewhere.. The most viable political goal is a Syria that remains whole as one nation, but with a governance model that would feature power devolved away from the central government to local actors who hold the territory in six different zones of control that now divide the country.. Such an outcome would require a major diplomatic lift to mediate an arrangement between the Turks and Kurds in the north. The United States would have to come to a settlement with Russia and Iran on who retakes the territory currently held by the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. And we would need to assure Israel and Saudi Arabia that Iranian influence in Syria will be contained.Unfortunately, it is this final and most important part of any plan for Syria — the political plan — which we are most concerned about when viewing the Trump administration’s approach.
.. most concerning of all — they have de-emphasized diplomacy, aid and reconstruction as tools of American foreign policy by calling for dramatic financial cuts for all these efforts and making clear to the international community that the United States is stepping back from coordinating these efforts.
.. If the United States is to turn the limited tactical strikes in Syria into a real strategic gain, the Trump team will have to change its approach, and focus not only on winning the war but also on winning the peace.
There is no question that the Islamic State will be defeated in Mosul; the real question is what comes afterward. Can the post-Islamic State effort resolve the squabbling likely to arise over numerous issues and bring lasting stability to one of Iraq’s most diverse and challenging provinces? Failure to do so could lead to ISIS 3.0... The challenge of Mosul and Nineveh is the considerable number of ethnic groups, religious sects, tribes and other elements that make up the province. Ultimately, we ensured that the provincial council included representatives of every district in Nineveh, of every major religion (Sunni, Shiite, Christian, Shabak), of each ethnic group (Arabs, Kurds, Yazidis, Turkmen), of every additional major societal element (Mosul University academics, businessmen, retired generals) and of each major tribe not already sufficiently represented... Thus, the most significant challenge in Mosul will not be to defeat the Islamic State; rather, it will be the task we faced there in 2003: to ensure post-conflict security, reconstruction and, above all, governance that is representative of and responsive to the people. All of this will have to be pursued largely by Iraqis, of different allegiances, without the kinds of forces, resources and authorities that we had... Leaders of the various Iraqi elements will likely have their own militias .... it was undone by an inability to get Iraqi authorities in Baghdad to approve initiatives we pursued in reconciliation with former Baath Party members cast out of work by the Coalition Provisional Authority’s de-Baathification decree and in providing work for the tens of thousands of Iraq soldiers also rendered unemployed by the authority... Importantly, Shiite militias should play no role in post-Islamic State security and governance.