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Syria: What Happens After Assad?

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By William Tucker
Contributor, In Homeland Security

It has been over four years since the uprising in Syria led to a full blown civil war with numerous outside powers trying to control events in pursuit of their respective national interests. The use of chemical weapons and barrel bombs against civilian targets failed to ignite a conventional foreign intervention against the Assad regime and as a result extremist groups have exploited the the void left by effective governance leading to international terrorist attacks against coalition partners that have sought to disrupt the activities of groups like the Islamic State. Though Assad remains the greatest recruiting agent for IS there hasn’t been any decisive action against the Assad regime primarily because of Russian support.

The response from the West has shifted from a focus on a political transition in Damascus to a focus on degrading, and ultimately destroying IS, however doing so prevents action against the primary hindrance to a stable government in future Syria. Dealing with Moscow has certainly influenced the shift from “Assad must go,” to “Assad can stay, or go, maybe.” But the fact remains that Sunni cooperation is necessary to ending the fighting and that simply won’t happen if Assad is allowed to stay. Thus, IS will remain a force in Syria.

In an excellent article on the topic, Kyle Orton wrote in The Independent, “In the Prime Minister’s written response to Parliamentary questions about his strategy for Syria, he noted that to work with Assad would “make matters worse” because Assad is one of ISIS’s “greatest recruiting sergeants”. This is correct, but it is now of primary importance that the British government and the U.S.-led anti-ISIS Coalition as a whole make Assad’s ouster a central feature of their stated political objectives. The defeat of ISIS requires the enlistment of Sunni Arab forces, and that can only happen if they are confident that ISIS will not be replaced by radical sectarian forces of the Assad regime or Iran, which is in control of the Assad regime and which has deployed tens of thousands of Shi’a jihadists into Syria.”

The recognition that Assad and his supporters in Moscow and Tehran are a central problem to engaging in a meaningful political transition for Syria is certainly understood, but there has been little effort to undermine that support. Indeed, many have advocating for cooperation with Russia in Syria though their activities only serve to prolong the problem. Dealing with Russia and Iran diplomatically may be unavoidable in international talks on Syria, but allowing, or even excusing their military activities in Syria is simply naive.

If Assad is indeed force out, assassinated, or otherwise incapacitated, then what comes next is an important issue, and one this author has repeatedly expressed dismay at the lack of discussion on. Without some form of government to operate vital services across Syria, it will be difficult stabilize the country and could easily lead to a situation not unlike that in Iraq or Libya. This would simply perpetuate the vacuum that IS was allowed to exploit in the first place, thus allowing for the Islamist group or some other radical movement room to grow. This, of course, would lead us right back into the situation that is currently trying to be rectified. A full strategy is needed to handle the situation in Syria, and without one the horrible humanitarian issues with refugees and international terrorist attacks emanating from Syria with perpetuate.

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