Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan write: The war in Syria is more straightforward today than it was two years ago. That may sound counterintuitive, but “Syria,” properly speaking, exists now only in name.
A near-genocidal policy undertaken by the President Bashar Assad in Damascus has been followed by contradictory foreign interventions by Russia, Iran, Turkey and the United States, each of which has established its own zone of influence in the war-ravaged country. The resulting balkanization, a cauldron of endless conflict, has led to the worst humanitarian catastrophe of the 21st century; the deaths of 500,000, the wounding of more than 1,000,000, and the external or internal displacement of 11,000,000 — roughly half the Syrian population.
There exists, however, a narrow window of opportunity for an incoming U.S. administration to achieve minimally defined objectives: defeating the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, guaranteeing that it cannot come back, and making sure that its main rival, al-Qaeda, cannot exploit the power vacuum that will come with the collapse of the caliphate.
Based on months of interviews with Syrian opposition figures, ISIS defectors, Sunni Arab tribesmen, U.S. military sources, and intelligence officials, we believe it necessary, as part of this plan, to keep small but effective U.S. garrisons indefinitely in eastern and northeastern Syria and western Iraq.
This is not as radical as it might appear. According to our U.S. military and intelligence sources, four installations already are being used by the anti-ISIS coalition, either openly or semi-covertly.
Developing these sites as solid anchors in the region will give the U.S. a badly needed intelligence-gathering capability in the Jazira, or Upper Mesopotamia, encompassing the arid plain that stretches across northwestern Iraq, northeastern Syria and southeastern Turkey.
In this century, the Jazira has been an incubator and a hideout for the transnational menace that, under a succession of names, including al Qaeda in Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS), and the Islamic State full stop, has bedeviled U.S. national security for over a decade. [Continue reading…]