Posted by Aron Lund on Monday, April 3rd, 2017
by Aron Lund
A lot of Syria writing tends to be focused on current events, veering toward the very small, the very recent, and the very local. We’re all breathlessly racing to keep up with the latest developments in a stunningly complicated conflict, and only rarely do journalists and researchers get a chance to step back and look at the bigger picture.
Instead, we find ourselves debating questions we won’t even remember a week later. Did that rebel group just split from this rebel group or was it the other way around? Did the army retake three cow sheds in rural Hama today, or four? It’s hard to put the daily minutiae in context if you do not step back to look at the longer-term trends every now and then.
Just over a year ago, I wrote an unpardonably long Syria Comment post on the ten most important developments in 2015 and what I felt was important to watch for in 2016. Whether that particular text was any good is not for me to judge, but what struck me was the number of people who told me they’d been looking for that type of long-form, big-picture analysis. They included several diplomats and others who work on Syria for a living in positions of some influence, but who, apparently, do not have time to discuss anything that didn’t happen yesterday. So I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s actually a real need for that stuff.
The esteemed readers of Syria Comment may therefore be interested to know that The Century Foundation just released a long four-author roundtable on the evolution of the conflict, with contributions from Thanassis Cambanis, Sam Heller, Michael Wahid Hanna, and myself. It’s basically a long series of shorter texts or comments, where we all respond to each other as we go, with Mr. Cambanis gently shepherding the rest of us toward intelligible conclusions. In the process of doing that, we seek to expand on what seems like relevant or interesting subtopics, collectively fleshing-out our sometimes-diverging views on the conflict. We did the same thing last summer, about what we felt was important back then, so this is a kind of second chapter, but it can certainly be read on its own. You can access both texts here:
In the new 2017 edition, we look at things like the consequences of Bashar al-Assad taking East Aleppo and Donald Trump taking the White House. The question we ask ourselves is: has Assad won a strategic victory? And our answer is: yes, it looks like he has. All things can change, but most probably, this one won’t. For those still in doubt, I refer you to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s comments in Ankara the other day, when he said Assad’s future “will be decided by the Syrian people,” which is diplospeak for “████ it, he can stay.”
But if the original war for control over the central government in Syria is fading into the background, what does that mean for the conflict? Because, rest assured, there will be more conflict—and that’s also something we tried to talk about. How much of the country can Assad ultimately control, using what means? What happens with the Syrian Kurds and the Islamic State? How do you approach the thorny issues of post-conflict reconstruction if there’s not going to be a post-conflict situation?
If you’re the kind of person who enjoys thinking about these issues, that’s kind of sad, but the roundtable should be perfect for you. And if it isn’t enough to satisfy your cravings for in-the-weeds Syriana, here’s a few other articles I’ve written recently, because I don’t want leave you with the impression that this post was about anything other than pure self-promotion: