Reshuffling the Cards? (I): Syria’s Evolving Strategy, by ICG

Reshuffling the Cards? (I): Syria\’s Evolving Strategy

This executive summary and recommendations is also available in Arabic.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Syria’s foreign policy sits atop a mountain of apparent contradictions that have long bedevilled outsiders. Its self-proclaimed goal is peace with Israel, yet it has allied itself with partners vowed to Israel’s destruction. It takes pride in being a bastion of secularism even as it makes common cause with Islamist movements. It simultaneously has backed Iraqi Sunni insurgents and a Lebanese Shiite armed group. The U.S. has wavered between different approaches in unsuccessful attempts to persuade Damascus to clarify its stance, from a peace process focus in the 1990s to isolation and pressure under George W. Bush in the following decade. Barack Obama, having turned an old page without settling on a new one, seems intent on engagement on bilateral issues, albeit more cautious than ambitious. It might work, but not in the way it has been proceeding. Syria might amend its policies, but only if it is first reassured about the costs – in terms of domestic stability and regional standing. That will entail working with Damascus to demonstrate the broader payoffs of a necessarily unfamiliar, and risky, journey.

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