With the #Biden administration settled in, there's a clear trend emerging in certain circles to swat away long-standing, complex foreign policy challenges -- and #Syria appears to be low-hanging fruit.

'#Syria doesn't matter,' some say... 'It was just never that important.'
It's good for there to be a debate -- & yes, 'great power competition' (#China, #Russia etc.) ought to be *the* priority.

BUT to shove #Syria aside as a minor inconvenience would be profoundly reckless, given the extraordinary costs it's inflicted on global stability since '11.
So far, arguments in favor of '#Syria doesn't matter' can be broken down into 2 camps:

(1) Those who ignore the profound past, current & future costs altogether - or worse - (2) those who astonishingly claim that #Assad, #Russia & #Iran can resolve the crisis & achieve stability
Those basing their '#Syria doesn't matter' proposals on (2) are pushing a position that has no basis in reality -- 'leaving it to others' is an intrinsically short-termist argument that falls apart at the slightest examination. The past decade proves that to be abundantly clear.
Neither (1) nor (2) stand up to even a cursory examination -- for in truth, they're far more reflective of a dubious desire to align with prevailing big picture foreign policy trends than they are of objective reality.

So, why DOES #Syria matter? Let's take a 40,000 sq ft look:
Over the past 10yrs, #Syria's crisis has destabilized the world in more/bigger ways than any single conflict has in many decades -- 500K killed, 12.5m displaced, refugee wave (= far right/populism, NATO & EU divisions), #ISIS, #Iran expansion, #Russia surge, 340+ CW attacks etc.
As it stands today, #Syria is a broken state, positioned at the heart of the #MiddleEast & is *the* regional focal point for global geopolitical competition. And its trajectory is only bad.

If #Syria is left alone, we'll be sucked back in with successively reduced leverage.
Since 2011, 6+ million #Syrians have fled & become refugees -- forcing entirely unsustainable strains on 3 US allies: #Jordan, #Lebanon & #Turkey.

Today, *all* polling indicates that refugees have zero interest in returning to an #Assad-controlled #Syria -- that's unsustainable.
Thanks to 10yrs of crisis & conflict, #Syria is now *the* beating heart, or the 'jewel in the crown' of #Iran's regional assertive posture -- a reality that'll survive with/without sanctions.

Israel knows this & is engaged in a constant 'mowing the grass' / containment campaign.
#ISIS's explosive rise in 2014 sparked a global terror crisis & although rid of its territory, current dynamics in #Syria all-but guarantee an #ISIS resurgence -- all the ingredients are there & the pro-#Assad alliance's military frailty is providing it with an invaluable vacuum.
3.5 million people (16% of pre-war pop'n) are now crammed into ~3% of #Syria's territory -- in the NW, where their de facto governor is a #Taliban-like entity: #HTS.

As a sign of how bad the #Idlib conundrum is, most policymakers privately acknowledge there's no better scenario.
Since its 2015 military intervention, #Russia has perceived #Syria as a major geopolitical victory — but this accomplishment sits on razor thin ice:

#Syria is utterly broke & fast becoming a terrifying combination of #Somalia & #NorthKorea, which is a true regional nightmare.
The #Assad-#Russia-#Iran alliance has proven somewhat adept at starving/killing their #Syrian adversaries, but the most unstable areas of #Syria in 2020 were those recaptured in 2018 -- they can't 'reconcile,' stabilize or rebuild.

In #Daraa, 450+ insurgent attacks in 18 months.
For the U.S, the 'Defeat #ISIS' campaign resembles a rare example of success & one achieved at minimal cost & in a sustainable model -- especially when compared to #Afghanistan, #Iraq & more.

BUT, "victory" is still a long way off & is complicated by #ISIS resurgence elsewhere.
10yrs of #Syria's crisis has witnessed an #Assad-led crippling erosion of international norms — from industrialized torture; 340+ CW attacks; starve/siege campaigns; 100,000 disappeared; systematic obstruction of @UN aid system; etc.

And zero accountability -- that cannot last.
@UN So to those advocating disengagement from #Syria &/or 'leaving it to' #Russia et. al., to deal with -- please explain how sustaining or allowing the above *realities* to get worse suits U.S. national security? Or how #Russia et. al. will fix it all.

If you can, I'm all ears.

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More from @Charles_Lister

25 Mar
Exclusive -- the March 21 attack on the @UN-deconflicted al-Atareb hospital in NW #Syria involved the use of #Russian "Krasnopol" laser-guided artillery shells, guided precisely to their target by a Russian UAV.

Extensive analysis of munition debris shows a direct correlation.
@UN Shortly after the attack, doctors & rescue workers began recovering remnants of the shells that hit al-Atareb hospital.

In addition to the usual metal shrapnel, they found circuit boards -- a tell-tale sign of precision-guidance tech, in this case, in artillery shells.
@UN That piqued my interest & in the days since, employees of al-Atareb hospital (associated with @sams_usa) gathered all the shell debris, removed it to a safe site & photographed it for analysis.

It soon became clear we were looking at *certain* evidence of Krasnopol munitions.
Read 9 tweets
23 Mar
CC'ing Jan Egeland (@NRC_Egeland) here -- the chair of @antonioguterres's "Senior Advisory Panel" investigating the @UN's "deconfliction" mechanism intended to protect hospitals in #Syria.

The council reports to the UN SG in May.
@NRC_Egeland @antonioguterres @UN Shortly after the #SAA artillery strike on the al-Atareb hospital, rescue workers discovered remnants of the shells, which contained circuit boards -- this is an unusual detail that *could* indicate that the munitions were laser-guided & newly provided by #Russia.
@NRC_Egeland @antonioguterres @UN #Russia has deployed 2K25 Krasnopol guided munitions from #Khmeymim AB, so we know they're in #Syria already -- but whether they're fired by #SAA is another matter.

Either way, it could also indicate the #Russia drone was acting as the laser designator -- marking the target.
Read 4 tweets
23 Mar
Today marks 2yrs since the territorial defeat of #ISIS's proclaimed 'Caliphate' in #Syria & #Iraq.

Militarily, the group remains engaged in a pre-planned decentralized insurgency, which is sustaining a steady tempo in #Iraq & #SDF areas & a clear *resurgence* in central #Syria.
The D-#ISIS Coalition has done all the right things thus far, but a disinvestment in #Iraq or #Syria would unquestionably benefit #ISIS's long-term plan (which we've seen play out before: 2010-14).

The deviation here is #Assad-held central #Syria -- a zone of deep, deep concern.
As analysts like @GregoryPWaters have shown, #ISIS is engaged in a methodical/sustained resurgence in central Syria -- where pro-#Assad forces have proven incapable of containing, let alone defeating a dispersed desert insurgency.

Tempo/potency/scope are consistently increasing.
Read 14 tweets
3 Feb
This is great by @jeromedrev & @patrickhaenni -- #HTS has come to represent something uniquely challenging.

After violently achieving domination (vs. #FSA, #AQ & #ISIS), it's now pursuing a policy of "gradual opening & mainstreamisation," giving concessions & seeking acceptance.
@jeromedrev @patrickhaenni The U.S, #Europe & #Turkey should press #HTS to address concerns & "define clear benchmarks which (if met) could enable HTS to shed its “terrorist” label," argue @dkhalifa & @NoahBonsey.

Doing so would symbolize a new diplomacy+military approach to CT.

@jeromedrev @patrickhaenni @dkhalifa @NoahBonsey Following yesterday's public revelation of #HTS hosting @FrontlinePBS (& others) in #Idlib, my thread below details how the former #AlQaeda affiliate has adapted in recent yrs & created new realities & challenges/dilemmas we'll have to deal w. eventually:

Read 4 tweets
2 Feb
Very, very interesting.

#HTS & its leader Abu Mohammed al-Jolani have just finished hosting @frontlinepbs's @Martin28Smith in #Idlib for 3 days.

How times change -- quite a difference from 2014/15.
@frontlinepbs @Martin28Smith #pt: It's no secret that #HTS has been pushing hard behind-the-scenes for opportunities to improve its image abroad -- first in outreach to researchers/institutes & more recently giving top access to highly-regarded media outlets.

And fwiw, PBS is one of several.
@frontlinepbs @Martin28Smith #pt: That #HTS is pushing this shouldn't come as a surprise -- the ingredients were put in place as far back as 2015, when a prolonged internal debate regarding the right path for Jabhat al-Nusra began. Clerical "lobby groups" got involved & then #JFS was created; then #HTS.
Read 15 tweets
1 Feb
#Syria's regime appears to be facing a sharp increase in public criticism from across its population - people are exasperated at rife corruption & incompetence.

In lieu of this, secret police have been behind a spate of arrests targeting prominent critics, many of them #Alawite.
#pt: While some observers in the West [inaccurately] attribute #Syria's deep economic crisis to sanctions, #Assad's "loyalist critics" don't appear to be convinced -- they've been laying the blame squarely at the regime & parliament's doorsteps.

i.e. the propaganda is faltering.
#pt: No matter where you look in #Assad-held areas, the regime is clearly unable to provide, govern, secure or stabilize.

For the many Syrians who've stood by the regime since '11, their sacrificed 'blood & treasure' appear to have been merely for Bashar -- no reciprocal award.
Read 17 tweets

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