New Article in The Hill – Assad Must Go

The HillBradley Bosserman published an article in The Hill this morning analyzing the implications of the proposed agreement over Syrian chemical weapons. The piece argues that the seemingly contradictory aims of securing chemical weapons and ushering in a transitional government can best be achieved by focusing US policy toward the goal of quickly ending the conflict.

Effectively securing these weapons in the midst of a civil war will be functionally impossible and setting the precedent that gassing your citizens can be a strategy for extracting powerful concessions would weaken norms against chemical weapons use, not strengthen them. The stated policy of the United States is to aid the opposition, support the transition to a post-Assad government, and secure the country’s vast stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. The only way to reconcile these objectives is to actively seek an end to the conflict and usher in a more responsible, transitional government. As the White House has said, Assad must go.

Read the full article here.

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Discussing Syria and Chemical Weapons on HuffPostLive

I appeared on World Brief this morning to discuss the apparently imminent U.S. attack on Syria. I was joined by Joshua Foust and the host Ahmed Shihab-Eldin. You can watch the video on HuffPostLive.

While the chemical weapons attack that occurred last week is terrible, I am more convinced than ever that regional strategy, rather than chemical weapons use, should drive the level and nature of American involvement in the Syrian conflict. I have written previously about why chemical weapons are the wrong Red Line, a point that remains true today. Before we begin striking targets inside Syria, we need to have an earnest conversation about core U.S. interests in the Middle East and how we can best promote them. If Assad’s ouster is our policy goal, than we should be pursuing actions designed to bring that about. The strikes being currently discussed won’t accomplish that end, however. Similarly, if our goal is narrowly to defend the international norms against using chemical weapons, it’s unclear that it would be a useful precedent to establish that the response to chemical weapons use is a handful of perfunctory military strikes explicitly not designed to dole out existential costs upon the culpable government.

In the coming days we will have more analysis on the need to view our engagement strategically rather than tactically. Stay tuned. You can click the image below to watch the full segment on HuffPostLive.

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Webcast: U.S. Policy Toward Syria

President Obama has announced an additional $300 million in direct aid following the apparently confirmed reports that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons sporadically throughout the conflict in Syria.  It is less clear, however, exactly what will be provide, who precisely will receive it, and when the aid will arrive. This decision occurs while the momentum that the rebels seemed to have been building earlier this year appears to be slipping away as the Assad regime retakes territory and becomes resurgent.  To explore this evolving situation, NDN’s MENA Initiative hosted an interactive webcast with leading experts.

Yisser Bittar from the Syrian American Council.

Christy Delafield from the Washington office of the Syrian Opposition Coalition.

Shadi Hamid from the Brookings Institution and Research Director of the Brookings Doha Center.

Watch the full video of our discussion below.

Syria Chat Pic

Bradley Bosserman Discusses Syria on Latest Episode of Debrief


In the latest episode of Debrief  from The Risk Shift, NDN’s Bradley Bosserman sits down with James Sheehan to discuss the ongoing conflict in Syria. James and Brad explore the role that the US can play in rebuilding Syria along with the significance of chemical weapons and the influence of extremist organizations.click_to_play

Founded in January 2012, (TRS) bridges the gap between academia and journalism: it provides the depth that is often missing from today’s media whilst remaining open and accessible to those who are not familiar with academic debate on the subjects at hand. A diverse roster of columnists contribute, with international relations theorists, political scientists, historians and philosophers present. The majority of TRS’ writers are graduate students from academic institutions within the UK and abroad, complimented by current and former think tank employees, journalists, and analysts.

Intervention in Syria: Chemical Weapons are the Wrong “Red Line”

SyriaCongressman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) has publicly concluded that the Assad regime has deployed chemical weapons and crossed a “red line” for U.S. intervention. While Rep. Rogers certainly has access to classified information as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, nearly all other assessments make it clear that what actually happened in Aleppo last week (and which weapons were used) remains unclear. The United Nations has launched a probe into the events and the White House has repeatedly assured the press that they are investigating all available information and that Assad’s forces would suffer “consequences” if they were found to have used chemical weapons on their own people. Focusing on whether these weapons were used, however, obscures the reality that chemical weapons use is simply the wrong red-line for Syria. American decisions about whether and how to intervene in this conflict must be driven by their likelihood to achieve strategic goals, not by a reactionary desire to simply do something. Facilitating the development and support of the key infrastructure of post-Assad Syria should be the focus for American policymakers.

If it turns out that chemical weapons were in fact used, that would certainly represent a tactical escalation, but it is difficult to see how it changes the fundamental dynamics on the ground. Dying from mustard gas in Aleppo is horrible, but so is being blasted apart by mortars outside Damascus. One of the many American interests in the conflict surely is to minimize the civilian death toll, but with 70,000 already slain — debating the weapons that are used is a conversation about tools, not lives. In the medium term, American interests center on constraining Iranian influence, ensuring that Syria does not become a breeding and training ground for terrorists, minimizing the spread of regional instability, and guarding against the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons. These are the yardsticks that must guide U.S. action, not arbitrary red-lines.

Securing Syria’s chemical weapons is not simply a matter of a few surgical air strikes. The regime still maintains a significant anti-air capability and the Pentagon concludes that an operation with any chance success would involve up to 75,000 American troops. Those forces would not be limited to the liberated areas in the North, they would have to push into the heart of regime-controlled territory to access major storage facilities in Damascus and Homs. Policymakers need to be realistic and ask themselves if they are prepared to make that kind of commitment and honestly evaluate whether that type of invasion would increase or decrease the likelihood of securing the full-range of U.S. interests.

Staggering military might, however, is not the only tool at the president’s disposal. Working with international partners to prepare for a post-regime future is an area where the U.S. can actually leverage a significant value-add and do so with a much smaller footprint. The Supreme Military Command needs to be further unified and its various groups need to practice operating under a cogent institutional framework. This is not only critical to achieving tactical successes against the Syrian Army, but also essential for building the habits and mechanics of trust that will be needed for a successful new government.

It is often said that there is not one revolution in Syria, but dozens. What is unifying the rebel groups at the moment is a common enemy, but once the regime falls, scores of groups with very different ideologies and very different visions of a free Syria will emerge in a country awash with weapons and devoid of civil and security infrastructure. The only hope for avoiding a series of multi-fronted civil wars is for the new government to quickly stand up credible institutions that can rein in the extremists and mediate these fundamental disputes in non-violent ways.

The U.S. can help encourage this process now by working with international partners like Turkey, Qatar, and Jordan to centralize the flow of military and non-military aid into the country. Currently the various rebel groups maintain largely proprietary support channels which fuels divisions and makes unifying command and control very difficult. Many components of the Free Syrian Army are already coordinating action in northern Syria, but that cooperation needs to be enhanced through formal structures that have a chance of outliving the present conflict. Resources are power and the international community needs to invest in developing an inclusive platform that can control and disseminate resources in non-political ways, engaging the Aid Coordination Unit of the Syrian Opposition Coalition as well as the Supreme Military Command, and local civilian councils. If there is a red-line in Syria, it should be related to attaining that goal.

This essay was originally published by PolicyMic

New Op-Ed on Preparing for Syria’s Transition

Bradley Bosserman, Director of NDN’s MENA Initiative, published an article arguing that the US and international community need to do more to prepare for a post-Assad Syria. The essay was published by Syria Deeply, a recently launched news and analysis platform designed to illuminate the complex issues of the Syrian crisis through on the ground reporting and in-depth expert commentary.

Don’t Wait for Assad’s Fall to Prepare for Transition   Syria News

Much of the latest analysis of the ongoing crisis in Syria focuses on securing the Assad regime’s stockpile of chemical weapons. In particular, how to keep them out of the hands of groups like the Nusra Front. While that is critical, the more difficult, and no less important, consideration for policymakers should be preparing a real strategy for a post-Assad transition. It’s in U.S.interest to see the creation of a free and stable Syria that promotes regional security. But the time to put the pieces in place that can enable that is not the day after Assad falls. The time is now.

Post-Assad Syria will be messy and awash with weapons. Those involved in the transition should learn the lessons of de-Baathification–the U.S.-led process in Iraq that disassembled all institutions of Saddam Hussein’s regime, creating a destabilizing vacuum. In Syria, maintaining as much continuity of key institutions —especially within the military and security apparatus—will be critical to avoiding a disaster. Meanwhile, the Supreme Military Council, the military wing of the Syrian opposition, will not be equipped to effectively manage reconstruction and the distribution of aid in the immediate aftermath of Assad’s downfall. That is why the new government should invite an international stabilization force into the country with a temporary mandate of peace enforcement.

Frederic Hof, former Special Advisor for Transition in Syria, suggests that such a force would “protect vulnerable populations, expedite the delivery of humanitarian assistance, provide law and order and suppress, with deadly force, extremists and stay-behind regime elements.” It would also be able to minimize the bloodletting of Alawites and regime collaborators. More importantly, it would help maintain stability on the ground, which would allow the Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC) to undertake the important work of establishing political and governing institutions and crafting a real time-horizon for the implementation of constitutional and parliamentary processes. However, as Ambassador Hof admits, it is not intuitively clear under which auspices this force would be formed, who would contribute troops, and from where the funding would come. These are conversations that need to occur now. If serious preparations do not begin until Assad falls, it will be impossible to respond quickly enough to achieve the goal of stabilization.

The recent experiences in North Africa make clear that political processes and security are not sufficient to ensure a successful transition. Reconstruction, political transition, and humanitarian aid are all crucial, but costly endeavors. Unfortunately, the international community has not yet come to terms with how this work will be funded. Yaser Tabbara, a Syrian-American member of the opposition, explains that the SOC has conducted studies that reveal the “cost of the management of the liberated areas” to be “close to the neighborhood of $500 million a month”. The largest donation thus far has been a commitment from Saudi Arabia of $100 million.

But even Tabbara’s estimates are woefully low. In reality, a successful Syrian transition will cost billions of dollars. If the United States and the international community wish to see the formation of a democratic, stable, and secure country, they need to plan now for funding the transition. Ambassador Hof has called upon Friends of Syria, the group of over 100 countries supporting the opposition, to act immediately to create an interim reconstruction fund. “It could take The World Bank and other international financial institutions months to do needs assessments, organize pledging sessions, and the rest,” he says. The piecemeal and insufficient funding of transitions in Libya,Egypt, and Tunisia are prime examples of the problems presented by financial support policies that are slapped together after the fact.

The Deauville Partnership, an international framework to coordinate aid to the transition countries, was created in May 2011 and involves the U.S., the E.U., and key Gulf States. This partnership serves a laudable coordination function and has mobilized billions of dollars worth of support, but simply rolling Syriainto that framework at this stage is probably a bad idea. Not only is the Deauville money already spoken for, but bureaucratic constraints have prevented much of it from actually flowing to the intended countries, even long after autocratic governments were toppled. A report by The Atlantic Council concludes that “a clear accounting of exactly what has been transferred to partnership countries is difficult to ascertain, particularly since there is a tendency to double-count funding or re-package initiatives under the Deauville banner that were already in the works.”

Another problem with just adding Syria to the Deauvillewait-list is that the funding is conditioned upon moving toward democratization objectives and economic reform. Those are important considerations for Libya,Egypt, and Tunisia, which are well into their transitions. While Syria will hopefully be a good candidate for that process before too long,Damascus will need large amounts of funding immediately to simply avert a humanitarian disaster. Right now, the country faces a real possibility that Assad’s fall will create tens of thousands of refugees, destabilize the region, and create a comfortable home for dangerous extremist groups. The international community cannot afford to wait for a perfectly democratic government or constitution in the days, weeks, and months that will follow the ouster of the regime.

While it is impossible to know exactly when or how the Assad regime will collapse, it now appears inevitable that it will. When that occurs, the United States and the international community need to be prepared to answer the call for real assistance. The institutions and tools that everyone knows will be needed must be planned for now. There are fighters outside Aleppo and Damascus giving their lives each day in a grueling battle for a free Syria. Those wishing to support them need to make sure that the tools to build that new country will be ready when those brave revolutionaries call for them.