Since 2011, Western policymakers have not only failed to bring an end to a brutal conflict but also shied away from confronting the biggest refugee crisis ever experienced, Despite this, there is still an opportunity to re-shape Syria for the good, drawing on painful lessons learned from the past six years and using the leverage that post-settlement reconstruction offers. This may be their last chance.
If I may be so bold, the West has "failed to bring an end to a brutal conflict" because it has not tried to win that conflict. The allure of hurting Assad just enough to push him to negotiate only convinced Assad that Western opposition would only be tough enough to kill his expendable supporters without being strong enough to defeat him.
And a post-settlement reconstruction effort will have no leverage on Assad because Assad will know the West is desperate for Syrian recovery to allow for the return of refugees sitting in Europe to Syria.
Assad has not won the war yet, however. So focusing on post-settlement strategies concedes Assad as the victor.
Yet Assad's army is bloodied and skeletal, reliant on Iranian-provided shock troops (Iranians, Hezbollah, and a Shia foreign legion) and money as well as Russian arms, firepower support, logistics support, and even special forces support.
Post-ISIL, the rebels could be strengthened to attack Assad's weaknesses, and stress out Russia and Iran who can ill afford to continue their support indefinitely.
Going right to the post-conflict settlement requires abandoning Assad's non-jihadi foes now. Don't do it. Assad can still be defeated as long as resistance to Assad exists and has hope of defeating him.
Because the author is quite wrong about the last chance to win in Syria. If Assad wins this war, in a generation or so the fight will erupt again to defeat his Alawite-minority regime. How many more hundreds of thousands will die because we gave up on defeating Assad now is the only question.
The war rages. Try to win it. It is not too late to do that. Do you really think a victorious Assad won't eventually seek revenge by thinking he shouldn't bicker and argue over who killed who?
UPDATE: I haven't gotten the air assault into western Mosul as I expected (but perhaps the fight is going well enough not to risk such a move), but we did carry one out in Syria:
The U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State has for the first time airdropped local ground forces behind enemy lines near the ISIS-held town of Tabqa in northern Syria, the Pentagon said on Wednesday, opening a new front in the campaign to recapture nearby Raqqa city.
American forces also provided artillery support to capture a nearby dam.
This also tends to block Syria moving in to this area. Recall that the Assad regime was shaken by a major defeat at the Tabqa base back in 2014. It would be nice to deprive Assad of redemption for that by putting other rebels in charge of the area.
Maybe we are trying to shape the post-ISIL battlefield to our benefit, after all, and not preparing to accept an Assad victory.
UPDATE: The airlift operation appears to have taken ISIL by surprise:
Syrian Arab and Kurdish fighters have encountered light resistance in northern Syria after U.S. pilots airlifted them into combat, an American officer said Friday, suggesting the operation caught Islamic State militants by surprise.
The airlift was the first of its kind in Syria, designed to kick-start an offensive to recapture IS-held territory west of Raqqa, the extremist group's self-declared capital. The targets: The Tabqa Dam on the Euphrates River, the nearby town of Tabqa and an airfield. The goal: To seal off Raqqa's western approaches before a planned offensive to recapture that city.
Col. Joseph Scrocca, spokesman in Baghdad for the U.S.-led coalition fighting IS in Syria and Iraq, said the U.S.-backed forces have used boats on Lake Assad to bring in reinforcements as well as heavy equipment and armored vehicles.
I wonder if sealing off Raqqa is aimed at keeping Assad away from the Raqqa and Tabqa regions more than it is intended to cut off ISIL inside the city of Raqqa.