I'm delighted to see that The Tourniquet, my long-gestating new CNAS report outlining a strategy for dealing with ISIS in Syria and Iraq, has now been released. It tries to lay out a viable political roadmap for the region which could deflect the already overwhelming pressures to escalate and expand the mission.
You can download the report for free here.
The report covers a lot of ground. It looks closely at Iraq and Syria, of course, but also at the broader regional environment which has empowered ISIS, including the proxy war in Syria and the shifting Islamist political landscape. For Iraq, it argues for close support conditioned upon a commitment by Iraqi leaders to implement long-needed political reforms and by Kurdish leaders to remain within the Iraqi state. Regionally, it outlines the importance of pulling back from debilitating proxy wars and warns against subordinating human rights and political reforms to the exigencies of a new war on terror. That, fairly clearly, is not the direction of current U.S. policy - which is going to come back to bite.
For Syria, the report argues for a "strategic pause" to allow the building of viable alternative governance in rebel-controlled parts of Syria. It rejects the idea of partnering with the Asad regime against ISIS as both unrealistic and undesirable. It also fairly bluntly highlights the reality that a viable Syrian opposition doesn't exist, even if everyone thinks such a creature is essential. The strategy takes a longer-term view towards the de-escalation of the conflict and political transition.
It lays out an outside-in strategy which tries to take advantage of an unusual regional accord which isn't going to last very long. While the fear of ISIS has temporarily brought together a wide range of regional actors, it should be painfully obvious that they don't actually agree on the strategy, the objectives, or even the primary enemy. The more that the strategy succeeds in blunting the immediate threat from ISIS, of course, the less incentive this fractious group will have to cooperate. And that's not even getting in to the urgent question of Iran's role, especially with the impending deadline for a nuclear agreement.
The full report is available here. Based on past experience, it won't please everyone (or anyone) but I hope that it makes a constructive contribution to the emerging debate.