Century Foundation Roundtable on Syria

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:

Comments (19)

Eugene said:

So in the end, “blank it”, he can stay, as in Assad? I suppose so, considering all the death & destruction that has been dumped upon Syria & its people. All for what? Has anything been accomplished? The U.S., who’s knee deep in this C-F, exiting Syria, only to engage in Yemen, adding another notch in its bona-fides in the war on terror. Is there justice to come out of this? Will history tell the story of who was the manipulator, or will there even be a history left to tell the tale?

April 4th, 2017, 5:12 am


ALAN said:

President Trump administration need to understand that the responsibility about all kinds of terrible and criminal behavior of “moderate rebles including non syrians, all shadows and all suits ” will record to the American intelligence planners as the main player involved in the implementation of military operation plans in Syria to the bone! It will not be allowed to go unpunished

April 4th, 2017, 10:23 am


Ghufran said:

Regardless of who did what and how, you need a credible investigation before you take action on the horrible tragedy in Idleb. The U.K. and other biased parties can not play the prosecutor and the judge at the same time. Stop the war is the right slogan but it is just a slogan, this war should have ended a long time ago. Syrians are now toys used by all.

April 5th, 2017, 8:04 pm


Rancher said:

And it begins. With North Korea on the burner we strike against Assad, (and Russia by proxy). Interesting times.

April 6th, 2017, 9:40 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Haven’t posted here in ages. But the news of the Trump airstrike against Syria airbases is welcome news. Finally.

April 6th, 2017, 10:18 pm


Tara said:

Yes Akbar, very welcomed news . I hope they expand it to all airport so they neutralize the regime air power .

April 6th, 2017, 11:29 pm


Ali Alwahsh said:

Look who’s back! suddenly all the rats out of their holes.

Long Live Syria, Long Live Resistance

April 7th, 2017, 1:07 am


Ali Alwahsh said:

Go away to your holes you necon warmongers leave the Syrian people sort out themselves in peace!

Long Live Syria, Long Live Resistance

April 7th, 2017, 1:10 am


Aleskander said:

To Syrians J K Jibran

Let her die.. as her last throes extends into eternity, let her croak, with martyrdom shines from her eyes, because that is better than living a life with bitterness of pain on her lips.

Let her go, in sorrow, as you can’t make her happy, step away from her bed, as her ailment belittles your remedies, her despair despises your tears, her chest rattles redicule your sighs.

Abandon her, run for your souls, as earth has opened up to bury her, hell’s python opened his mouth wide to devour her, and abyss’s ghost ran to her, to demolish her..

Desert’s dust blinded her eyes, heat melted her fat, jungles beasts ripped her skin and skyhawks plucked her hairs, so it has become a skeleton laying down on a heap of ashes.

Conqueror stole her safes, soldiers looted her bracelets and necklaces, hoodlums ripped her clothes, so all that is left on her nakedness is a crown of thorn, and a trail of tears.

Let her be crushed, you can’t extricate her from under feet, and horseshoes, because fear has killed your souls, hesitation weakened your arms, and cowardliness shattered your swords, your spears.

Leave her in silence, because wailing does not resurrect dead, shrieks do not bring back souls, stand far away from her, as caves whistles do not stop tide.

Let her expire, don’t you see? That she, facing death’s throne is far more enchanting than you under reigns of enslavement

As for you, o big heart of light, full of life and freedom songs, march lonesome to the the apex of the mountain, those ghosts that you see alongside the road are nothing but static boulders, and demised bones.

April 7th, 2017, 6:29 am


Syrialover said:

“Either Russia has been complicit or Russia has been simply incompetent,” Rex Tillerson, US Secretary of State on Assad’s latest chemical weapons attack.

Now Rex, stop with the diplomacy.

It’s both complicit AND incompetent.

April 7th, 2017, 10:00 am


Akbar Palace said:

Ali Alwahsh,

What “wesistance” are you talking about? Your wesistance is a wholesale conflict of muslim thugs killing muslim thugs with innocent muslims getting murdered inbetween with self-elected muslim “leaders” watching from a distance under the protection of shia towel-heads and commies.

What a sick joke.

April 7th, 2017, 10:48 am


ALAN said:

The Americans fooled Saudi war investors. More than half of Cruz-Tomahawk missiles (Expired scrap) did not reach their targets !!80 Mln Saudi US $ to destroy airstrip of Al-Shaerat Airbase? President Trump became a corrupt trader selling a corrupt goods!

April 7th, 2017, 2:58 pm


Ali Alwahsh said:


You Zionists stay out of it. I’m sure the taste of downing two Israeli jets and demolishing a nuclear power plant last week still bitter in your mouth.

April 7th, 2017, 6:29 pm


Ali Alwahsh said:

Re: 13. ALAN

You are correct. The truth is folding as we speak not only 38 Tomahawk fell in the Mediterranean sea but the Zero hour and the exact coordinates were shared with the Syrian government 18 hours before the play.

Only 2 missiles actually made it to the Shayrat Airfield and hit a couple of abandoned warehouses while the rest fell in no-land countryside of Homs. The heroes of SAA were drinking Metta while smoking shisha not far from the airfield while having a laugh. Thanks to Mr. Trump foe this fireworks entertainment session.

April 7th, 2017, 6:37 pm


Rancher said:

This was a limited strike to deter further chemical attacks, Trump will not be trying for regime change. Of course if we didn’t hit much and most of the TLAMs failed then it will have no effect. I believe if that was the case it would have been leaked by now from Obama loyalist.

April 7th, 2017, 8:32 pm


Syrialover said:

Assad and regime change.

It’s going to happen at some stage.

So if not now, when?

Why wait? Assad’s continued presence is never going to improve things, even if it continues until he dies of old age.

Trump’s Generals, who are writing his script, know that.

They just want to get it over with so the filthy mess Assad’s made of Syria can be hosed down and Syrians given a chance before Iran moves in and takes full custody.

April 7th, 2017, 9:54 pm


ALAN said:

American sheeple!
Everyone and their dogs are in on the big agreed plan except you the poor ignorant punters who end up paying for it all in ether money, civilian lives, soldiers lives – or all of them.

April 8th, 2017, 4:49 am


ALAN said:

Thank you sheeple for you voting and for paying taxes to kill more syrians!
Trump strikes again, oops hit the Kurds this morning
The airstrike devastated an internet coffee shop in Hanedah town in western Raqqa countryside. The airstrike killed more than 20 civilians and injured dozens more.

April 8th, 2017, 10:16 am


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