14
Oct

FOR four years, American policy toward Syria has been built on a wish and a prayer: a wish that President Bashar al-Assad would leave and a prayer that the “moderate” Syrian opposition would be more than it is. Now Russia has stepped up its game, and the response from the American government and many commentators seems to be to wish harder and pray more, while condemning Russia for intruding where it supposedly doesn’t belong.

As much as many Americans and Europeans may abhor what President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia did in Crimea and Ukraine, Moscow’s intervention in Syria may offer the first glimmer of hope for ending the quagmire there. Mr. Putin is right that only stable governance and security will allow Syrian refugees to return home.

Rather than pursue decisive victory, America must seek to end this war with a less dramatic, less satisfying settlement.

The United States should have two goals in Syria. First, bring order to those parts of the country that the Islamic State does not control. Second, strive to build a coalition of forces that can contain the Islamic State and eventually replace it. Russia’s “intrusion” could offer a chance to achieve both.

This means setting aside American prejudices and heated political rhetoric. Russia isn’t an intruder in Syria; it has been involved there for decades, just as America has been involved throughout the Middle East for more than 60 years. Mr. Assad is Russia’s protégé, and Syria is an operations base for the Russian military. The United States has its own, significantly larger set of friends and operating facilities in the region.

At present, both powers have an interest in regional stability. Violent jihadist movements pose more of a threat to Russia than to America; many Russians have already died at the hands of terrorists, and thousands of Russian-based jihadists have flocked to the Islamic State with the intent to return home eventually. Read more…

Published in nytimes.com on 13 October, 2015

Gordon Adams is a professor emeritus of international relations at American University. Stephen M. Walt is a professor of international affairs at Harvard.

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