Comments on recent work by ICG’s Noah Bonsey, Carnegie’s Khedar Khaddour & Maha Yahya
Crisis Group on Syria has a systemic problem of trying to assert that Moscow and its allies in Syria only battle “non-jihadist rebels.” This tactic is crucial for supporting ICG’s jarring September 2015 call for an escalation of the military conflict in Syria rather than an emphasis on its traditional role as a driver of conflict mitigation and peace-building strategies.
I wrote about Noah Bonsey and ICG’s call for Western military intervention here – a call that was made literally weeks before the major Russian intervention for which the ICG report gave little consideration (the report failed to discuss the ramifications of a Russian-Syrian-Iranian response to the proposed Western intervention, much less the prospects of a unilateral Russian escalation):
“When NGOs Call For Military Intervention in Syria: The Case of the International Crisis Group”/Huffington Post, September 2015
“…This much is unclear: having battered Syria’s non-jihadist rebels nearly to the brink of defeat but not over it, what sort of political and military arrangements will Moscow seek?…”
Khedar Khaddour has this report out below and says: “Yet, the army’s paradoxical resilience has been essential for the Assad regime’s survival. Subcontracting the ground operations to paramilitary forces has allowed the army to avoid many battlefield losses. It has also helped to prevent mass defections and to bolster the army’s image as a stalwart pillar of national unity among regime supporters.”
The main question is not answered here by Khaddour, however: why were so many predictions of the Army’s imminent collapse made so often, with such confidence and were ultimately proved so erroneous? This is an even more crucial question I think for policymakers to understand than the quite evident reasons for the Army’s continuation that most observers who even somewhat knew Syria surmised early on.
Maha Yahya at Carnegie has a detailed report that unpacks Tunisian attitudes towards the challenges facing the country; and she thankfully links corruption and economic development together as the central challenge (well ahead of jihadism, though this is not drawn out overtly if I remember). She also lays out a few proposals for what is needed.
The essential problem is that she proposes no mechanisms to actually help push these proposals through – no proposals for how the local political fragmentation might be overcome and then how consensus on specific actions might be moved forward.
We are left, again, with a great diagnosis, a few proposals for what could help (decentralization, activation of trilateral working groups, infrastructure+regional investment etc.) but no detailed proposal for how to make any of this happen. Much more work is needed on this final stage in my view.