Itani and Abouzahr: Lessons from Russia’s Intervention in Syria – Atlantic Council

Whatever its merits, the United States’ limited involvement in Syria granted Russia a powerful first-mover advantage, which in turn has complicated US policy options, granted a strategic foothold to a historical rival, facilitated mass atrocities, and undermined the concept of an international liberal order. The belief that Russia valued US and international goodwill more than its hard geopolitical interests turned out to be wrong. The assumption that what the United States saw as a “quagmire” would be judged similarly by Russia was arrogant and misplaced. Despite US warnings that destruction and loss of human capital will make ruling Syria impossible to govern, Russia seems unfazed and comfortable operating in this environment.

The next US president should understand that Russian and US worldviews and interests are different. The former are probably irreconcilable. The latter may not be, but only if the cost to the regime and its allies is raised directly or by proxy thereby compelling Russia to recalculate its investment in the Syrian regime. If the incoming administration decides that none of the various policy options for doing so are worth the risk, or that the negative fallout from Russia’s involvement is acceptable, so be it. The arguments and analyses are well known by now. What US leaders cannot do, however, is ignore over five years of incontrovertible evidence and risk yet another half-decade pretending Russian behavior in Syria and its regional and global effects will change if US policy in Syria does not.

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