tv Center for a New American Security Discussion on Syria - Panel 1 CSPAN April 30, 2019 6:25pm-7:21pm EDT
>> she has a lot of experience understanding how post conflict and democracy building can be done in the greater middle east. director of the program on nonstate actors at the center for global policy. co-author of the "new york times" "isis, inside the army of terror." world renowned expert on jihadist movements.
and his articles on how to understand isis and other organizations function. we have the doctoral student at georgetown university law. she is an expert on constitution drafting and dem dell building. she has a lot of experience working inside syria and with syrian-run organizations and consulting with international actors and how to approach the way forward in syria. one of the dynamics is the question that we alluded to in the fireside chat, what is the enduring u.s. interests in syria. president trump has emerged as a thought leader. in january, he stated that syria was lost long ago. and while this represents sort of one of the current in the discussion, there does seem to be an active debate within the
>> he looks very healthy despite reports over the past two years including from the people captured like isis, captured by the iraqis. nd wasn't how he appeared. i think he looks exactly like he did but grew a little bit older. more slowly than i did. and that is a significant video that he basically, national prop gappeda for the globe.
again over the past two years, people are saying he is irrelevant, he's dying, he is very angry. all was demreend from reports. seems like he is healthy. and the organization is very healthy. and i'm talking about the core of the organization. and that has implications way beyond syria. for two years, what we are seeing the fighters of isis and the national-led coalition, isis has transitioned safely from being a caliphate from hole territory into becoming an underground insurance organization. ut contrary to my isis has expanded not just going a erground but expanded in
way we expect two years from now. isis outside syria and iraq has become more like isis. they are closest to isis. that moment is big when they losted the caliphate. and see some elements of it and we are no longer part of baghdadi's group. we haven't seen it. that is very, very significant and has implications for a long time. if he manages to say, i built a call tate, trns ised from insurgency for another moment another opportunity for the future and syria, iraq and wider region, he could position
>> but stability that you can use to build on that and kind of push against the regime and push against the jihadis and other actors. if the u.s. leads now, the regime will consolidate these gains and the jihadis will try to grow back again and the you has the opportunity to do something in syria if the u.s. pulls out of syria, the conflict ill unravel.
iraq is very important, because now iraqi security hinges in fact on this stability because the borders are pourous. isis there. if there is any cop flict there, it will immediately affect aces like and bar and the -- anbar and i think this is very important, the key points to pay attention. >> would you like to weigh in? >> i don't want to go over what hassan has mentioned. and the civil society and the you interests in ensuring that the social conditions that not om allows for the conflict to
begin with but accelerating the emergens of isis and al qaeda. and these groups. that should be a more pronounced part of the administration's goals. there is an interest in the new ambassador hoping to re-up our financial investments, which is i think still a very important of this and remains an important piece of this puzzle and we address the social conditions. because unless you address those things. and all these other actors. the risks will return. and second and the administration has made it very clear in pushing back on iran. i think the danger with iran, it doesn't care about how much people have to suffer in terms of financial and economic
sanctions, it has done this before in syria and even prior to the conflict and both the sir yap regime and iran are used to surviving and outliving economic sanctions. the issue with iran is how long will our sanctions remain and if president trump is not re-elected in two years and the democratic candidates say they crmppmp g about the jo a agreement. i think pushing back on iran should remain a vital u.s. interest in dealing with syria. >> i gee with everything my colleagues have laid out in terms of the interests that the u.s. has pursued and has in syria. i want to drill down on my tormer u.s. policy hat.
one of the tools we have to advance those interests. and we have several pools currently on the table, one is the facts on the ground. with our partners do hold considerable territory in syria, . that's not nothing. our military obviously is a huge card to play. our diplomatic leverage and bring our allies on board is another tool. economic tool, economic sanctions. so there is economic tools to play. our assistance programs help us achieve justice as well. and timely we have the perception of our commitment, the perception of our credibility to use tools to create outcomes. those are our cards to play. as we were having this panel a year and change ago, i would say we were in a good position to
deploy these tools. not to achieve a perfect outcome in syria but a better one for our interests. i have to confess in the subsequent year, i feel that we have made this list considerably harder in terms of how to use these tools to achieve our objectives. in the military front, there has been coverage around the military presence in or out, withdrawal. even if the end point is that we are not withdrawing that much or allied troops coming in, whatever that final or at least for now resting point is, the reality is that we have already signaled our lack of commitment on the military.
we have a lot of fish to fry. our diplomatic corps is being stretched tore other stabilization help. looking for other allies bringing in troops. dealing with the foreign fighter issue. so all of this means that our diplomatic might is being stretched pretty thin. i think we have to be realistic the president's signalling to stay the course undermines all i think with need to be sober and clear-eyed about that. timely, i think when we think about perceptions of our commitment, the perceptions that matter and i would be curious,
to my mind, the perceptions that matter are actors on the grouped, adverse areas on the grouped and counterparts and we create our own ecosystem and shared understanding that we are here for some amount of time. i was in the region the last couple of weeks ap the message i got from various actors that a wide array of opinions and we are leaving at some point. and our partners are making bargains accordingly. us at you just said opens to deep dive in our issue. when we came down on the fact that the united states has potentially tremendous leverage through its control of one-third lands,a and agricultural other elements to try to shape an outcome that benefits u.s.
interests. however there is a counter to that and the topic of this discussion that syria having been lost, land, sand and death. how do you measure what success looks like, especially in a conflict environment like this, when you have foreign actors on the ground. and yet, you are at loggerheads what the future of syria looks like. how would you assess victory in syria and look at something like we have in afghanistan where we are there a decade from now. >> take the first point. what is victory in syria and what are we trying to achieve. i think about this a lot in the eastern part of the country and what you report and analyze so well.
when we think about our engagement in the east. there is basically things i would say. our civilian and military. our engagements and our assistance is doing needed work in helping a devastated area. these programs are demining, electricity, water, sanitation to support the civil society. these programs are doing really valuable work. at the same time, and this is poip number two. i think we need to be these programs and this engagement is not going to change the strategic outcome of the war. and there is a bit of history of u.s. engagement in syria in my mind of sort of hoping that civilian efforts and civilian programming could somehow tip the balance when ultimately
actors. and i have a report for carnegie. we are fooling ourselves if we think our support of civilian actors can make up for our perceived loss of military commitment. success f success in is the counterisis, enduring defeat or containment of isis. we have a lot of good learning of this context and what would be the requirement. it would require predictable security force. for civilian assistance programs, it does have political grievances that are ultimately gives root to isis in the first place. our programs aren't focused on that. they are focused on critical
services. programs need to be, according to other researchers have to be overseen by civil yap professional. we had good innovation. but that has been cast into doubt with the lepping of time and questions about the length of time being there. in germ, we need, if we are trying to sort of tamp down the conditions, we need a long-term predictable presence and we don't have that. and there are questions of what is the governance structure we are trying. how do we prevent this from looking like afghanistan. and america caps are pretty concerned about another do-over. from my perspective. we are right to be chased from the situation of stabilization
and this is nothing like the engagement on this front. we've got a fraction of the military personnel 2000 versus the 100,000 during the height. civilian per son ellap resources and the largest difference which you referenced is we have a capable partner on the grupped that went to their military skills and organizational and administrative skills. in a lot of ways it is different from the after gap stabilization experience. i think there is one parallel that should give us pause, what is the political end state that the stabilization end state are diving towards and it is questionable. in the afghan case, we were trying to make it localized and
decentralized. and the syrian case in the eastern syrian case we made it clear we are not trying to bolster a state list. at the same time, we don't want to be bolstering the regime and what are these efforts actually empowering toward and i don't think we have answered that question yet. >> this highlights a point and look at the point which is this happenedover dilemma, if you ip investigate and make one third of the country, built up local organizations capacity, provide for the population and hand it off to assad and what dilemma do they face and this goes to the question. haas and, you alluded to this in your discussion about the challenges we face when it comes to how people live with this experience on the grouped.
i would like to say you wrote excellent articles about isis warped eastern syria. first, focusing on eastern syria, if you are going to deny a counter terrorism policy to support the u.s. and its partners to prevent the re-emergence of isis. how would you beat baghdad question at the battle he wants to face which is a war of attrition against the united states? >> thank you. i'm going to use an agricultural mmp e tmp arch pmphmpomprmp. the way i syria today, if you zoom in to the villages and towns, the area is devastated. like plowing soil and it's
upside down. over the past five years, we defeated isis but the current situation is like that soil that is fertile is ready -- for something to emerge out of the soil. and that's not success. that's not success for you or the international community. it's an environment. and the biggest win would be that the one who will be able to take advantage of this. and today, just to give you an example, i discussed this in thes a, my village has been liberated for three, four months now. and people were prevented to come back to this area because it was dangerous because isis rigged all the houses. and people because of the december pation and people do
need their homes, people have nothing else -- some people -- you look at the areas that are under attack. no, it's not like that. people say that and stayed on because they had nowhere else to go. and this is an example. i think that sense has a policy implication. i have been pushing my parents to move. and always insist they can't because there is difficulty of families that lived there for centuries. d their ancestors and cannot be uprooted. they lived their lives and they are organized. and now you look at the u.s. is doing there, there is a disconnect from the policy to
the realities. o for four months, it has been liberated. this case applies to other wupped. but every time people try to come back, they are told they cannot because it is full of mines and so forth. and what i hear today, no money is allocated to these villages. basically, the u.s.-led coalition has destroyed these areas but they don't have the resources to demine and make sure that people can come back and resume there. there is resentment and resentment toward the u.s. because nobody is doing anything. yp if you can call that a victory in that sense and as long as you don't deal with these things, people are saying what is our interest in rebuilding syria. in 2014, u.s. government made a
decision to go to syria and fight isis and that mission is not conceded but led to the devastation and that devastation has to be addressed before you say our job is done. to go back to your question, i think the best way forward is to use that force that the u.s. created in syria and enable us to be more representative of the local -- more in tune with the local grievances and i'm a supporter of that force. i think they have a chance to succeed where efforts will tail, to rebuild syria and i think they are already seen by locals as a better option and better alternative than the jihadis and than turkey in the northeast. so i think the best way forward
-- ap i leave you with that kind of happenedover. there has to be a happenedover exit strategy that the u.s. will say to these locals, we need to ppened you over to the syria state. that will undo the success. where the u.s. has to be focused, because i think that's a waste of time for me. rolling back iran should be a by product. the real policy is to enable these forces to have places and make sure when they depee onal settlement with the syrians, meaning with damascus, there has to be a settlement where they can protect their areas from the jihadis. but they will almost like not an autonomy but decentralized area
of governments. and that applies to turkey in the north. they shouldn't be handed over to the regime but integrated back into syria for the decentralized government. >> that opens up for the last question i will ask the panel. one of the biggest challenges we identified when we wrote the eport and this is called the assad dilemma. how does assad and his regime have consolidated its control over western syria and there is a consensus that the united states and the world will have to engage in one shape or another with the agency emand the past policies of not engaging with the regime has failed? and the way you look at it, you have a current policy to change the regime's policy.
this is a change from secretary tillerson when he made regime change. the current team under ambassador jeffries has tried to and sort of move forward on this dilemma that we face. how do you bring syria back under one government? i want to ask you when you look at the assad government, do we continue to change the regime's behavior and allow others to engage with the regime or at the end of the day, we cannot prevent it from being a source of destabilization unless he goes and billion time we leaned into that that will president trump wanted to do that this past april and ordered secretary
of defense mattis. how do you approach the assad dilemma? >> this is a very difficult question and i like how your report, i encourage you, you did a good job to weigh out the six policy options. and your second policy option which is what the current administration is focusing on will stabilizing areas that are under our orbit. i think it is one of the feasible things. adding to that is a maximum pressure campaign and i know the administration is working towards. i think that is an important thing to task on. and that is policy op shun number two. is unethical to go back and
treat the assad regime as though it never happened. besides it being moral and ethical, it won't meet the interests that all three of us have laid out, the u.s. critical interests in terms of preventing he rise of extremism and i wanted to start of by going -- giving you an overview, if we were to free syria today what it would look like. so you have -- and i wrote this before. the g.d.p. has shrunk by 4/5's. the public revenues has gone .rom 23% to 3% of the country's and and other institutions have
estimated that the damage to be $400 billion and 65 persons. and homes that people cannot return to. syria's business community has largely fled and private investors, their% went from 12% to 4%. all the current construction efforts that we have seen in these lavish disney world-type buildings and highlights buildings and entertainment projects, a bedroom that costs half a million dollars, something that is completely out of reach for the refugee and the syrian government says they will take back. you have the legislative decree 3 in a is meant to seize any
property. there is no due process or anything when their property is seized. the we saw it in the 1980's. the people that the regime is surroundback, aloug to t that the bringing back have been the same people who executed the repressive policies. very little has changed in terms of their approach and techniques with the syrian people, even after eight years of bloodshed and one million people almost dead. the only difference in this situation and this is the part that's very critical is that syria has lost much of its sovereignty. you have iran and russia who are actively pressuring the regime into going into different directions that benefit them, obviously, and not the syrian people.
the detention file that we discuss often is an ongoing file. we are not just talking about the 100,000 or so that the regime had previously arrested. people are constantly being arrested and being detained. they're even detaining people who are well-known advocates of their cause. the administrator of one of the most vocal pro-regime facebook pages criticized the regime. he's been detained. they assume he's dead. there is a refugee who was just a money exchanger. he helped exchange money in lebanon. he returned and within two days he was detained and went missing. this is really -- and even the refugees that have come in, let's say people that had humanitarian reasons, did not participate actively in any
protest against the regime, they are not allowed to go back to heir home. they are not being allowed to go there. they have to get the names vetted by every single security branch in syria and only then they can go back. and so looking at this, even the -- we haven't documented one instance when this has been the case, especially from areas where the regime considers the incubate grors the revolution. and so looking at this, even the oil crisis, a lot of that is largely due to production. we are down to 5% of the previous production in 2011. i think previously from 2010-2011 the average was 400,000 barrels of oil per day. the oil crisis that's happening,
ack of or inability or refusal to provide the assad regime with oil over the last six onths. we saw that heavily publicized last week. people under the regime, like i said, the tactics of the 1980's have gone back to a severe repression of society. we have seen one small instance of protest and that was largely because it was under russian control and it was when the regime was trying to put up a new statute while not spending any money to feed, clothes, or provide medical aid to these people, but instead to put up a statute. you saw some protests.
but these are people who were anti-regime from the beginning. we have not seen any other similar protests in other parts f syria. the assad regime has had a chilling effect on people. i cofounded a humanitarian organization that worked largely in idlib. in areas where the ingo's are operating the regime is really flexing its muscles, dictating to the united nations who it can and cannot hire, who it can and cannot procure from, and which areas it can provide humanitarian aid for. of course, these are the areas largely sympathetic to the egime. if we return our normal relationships with assad, this is the picture we would see.
there is no indication he would distribute humanitarian aid evenly or relax the harsh laws and regulations and fear tactics e has on the people. if assad goes, you know, i said that in my piece i had said that to remove sanctions, the first thing you need to do was acquiesce to who you fight for. it's essentially the regime ommitting suicide. those who have read 2254 it's something russia acquiesced to, it requires the government and the on suggestion to agree in formal negotiations on a political transition, a transition away from assad that leads to credible, inclusive, non seq.tarian government.
it asks for immediate seizure on any attacks against civilians and requires and demands compliance with international humanitarian law's. these are all things the regime is not doing and would adamantly refuse to do. the voluntary return of refugees it most likely does not even have an interest in doing. i cannot see in good faith the regime doing this unless it's willing to commit suicide. i have talked to some experts who say that there are some scenarios where if the russians were to pull their cover, their military cover, because they are on the ground helping the regime sort of direct the military fight, that if russia were to step away from the assad regime, this may put the regime under fire, in terms of it would not just be enough to have iranian support.
it would not be enough for the region to say we are willing to take on the kurdish pposition. this might be one scenario, but i am not a russian expert. i don't want to talk about the likelihood of that. this might be one scenario. another one is elections, right? 2021 elections. the french are trying to push it up to 2020. the russians are pushing for this because they are pretty confident that there is no other character that can compete against assad. if you look at potential voters outside of the assad regime, you might have 11.5 million if you include the refugees, the kurdish held areas. it still would likely be under the number in regime held areas that would be forced to vote for assad.
if there was international backing of a potential character to run against assad that could have the support of both kurds and opposition leaders, this might be one scenario. once again, i have not seen any such figure, but i don't want to eliminate the possibility of syrians reaching that kind of pposition. the syrians have not been able to develop that kind of opposition for a host of reasons. if we are looking for international backing for a character, ensuring some of these concerns people have for the minorities. if assad were to leave
unwillingly for some reason, you asked me this a couple of days ago. what would happen the next day? my understanding from the folks i have talked to is that the russians and iranians would scramble to put someone that would ensure their interests hat they can agree upon. you have a very interesting amily there. that's what people say who would likely come next if that were to be the scenario. i will stop there. thank you. >> thank you very much for a very comprehensive answer. o ask the regime to change its
behavior is to ask the regime to commit suicide. we have time for a few questions with responses from the panel. we would like to take a moment to thank our partner who is in the audience today. he and his organization is one of the best organizations working on the ground in syria. they have collaborated closely with us on the report. thank you for joining us. we have time for a short round of questions. we will take them all together with short responses from the panel. we will start up front. >> do i need a microphone? is it on? thank you. very interesting. i probably have heard two different perspectives. one, isis is defeated in syria and iraq, which is also my view,
and the underlying problem is political. the people who live in those areas were isis controls need their problems addressed. they need to see that the olitical authority somehow represents them and addresses their needs. is that a reasonable way to put it? the underlying problem and the way to address it is political? the second point i would like to uggest and maybe this center might do something about this later on. the idea isis is never defeated. it has not been defeated now because there was a video. americans have been at this thing fighting islamic extreme some for 19 years. every president since then has at one time or another proclaimed victory only to have this reemerge.
is it possible that we don't understand it? for centuries of islamic history, there have been times when -- is a figurehead for brutal individuals ruling the area. is it possible that is the case now? >> thank you. three questions in the back. >> i was wondering if you could speak to the iranian influence, insofar as -- i mean, there was an article in the "wall street journal" about forcing people to convert to shia in exchange for security, food, etc. i was wondering if you could speak to how prevalent that
phenomenon is. with iran facing financial constraints, do you think iran will back out of syria? how might that plate to that i met that play to the ynamics? >> i'm from the turkish embassy. ow do the locals feel about -- him that they see. >> i think that's it for questions. we will have a short break after this. who wants to take questions first? >> very quickly on the first question on isis. my read of the situation, i'm not going to speak to the global insurgency of isis, but there's political drivers. in general, it's political in grievances, sense of injustice that would give rise to a
resurgence. what form that takes i certainly cannot predict. the point about political representation and grievances being at the heart of this and why this is a really hard policy challenge for the next year, five years, 10 years specific to syria i think is a real challenge. it sounds like should the assad regime retake syria, we don't have hope that those grievances would be addressed. that perhaps reinforces the point about the need to build up and make a representative force in eastern syria. on the iranian influence question, i have not seen urther reports beyond the article you mentioned, which i have seen. the big take away is that iran is playing a long, soft power game, as well as a hard power game. i think we sometimes focus on he hard power.
if we are truly serious about pushing back iranian influence, i think we need to look at how they are exerting powers in all these more subtle but quite ffective ways. > i will sum up my answer by saying i understand that people -- outside the u.s. i think there is convergence etween u.s. interests and what needs to be done in the right way in syria. before you could talk to idealists and say this is a pure democracy. help it, change the dictator to make the region less volatile. . than before that would be. a compelling argument. for the cynics who don't believe in this and don't see the u.s.
role as -- or the u.s. as having that role in the world. i think that argument changed in 2014 into another argument, which is syria is a problem. it's a festering war. if you don't deal with it right away, you will have problems in the long-term. in order to resolve that problem, in order to deal with it, the only right way is to do it the right way for the people. the interests of the locals have somehow converged with the u.s. interests in the region in order to prevent extremism on even other issues, not just extremism. empower these voices opposed to the regime, but not in a political sense. the majority of the country needs to be -- in a different way than before.
i would just say that. >> i was just going to touch on the iran question. i haven't heard of too many other reports published beyond at as well but iran has brought 80,000-100,000 from iraq, lebanon, afghanistan, and has placed them in different reas of syria. t's pretty much an iranian controlled city now. they are playing the long run. even if they have to pull some of the backing for the syrian government, they are leaving the groundwork for them to come back, even if it's 10-15 years, because they are committed to that territory that they need. >> when the treaty was written on the democratic and federalism
and it began to be implemented, he did it with an eye on addressing northeastern syria's diverse communities. in many ways, that theory will be the guiding governance theory that has unfolded. i would like to thank everyone for joining this discussion and thank the panelists for their ery comprehensive answers. we will do a five minute break. [applause] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2019]
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