US policy in Syria needs to be based on a region wide view that is not wedded to preservation of existing national boundaries. It must look to long- term US interests. Here are some key elements:
- Fix the map: The Sykes -Picot lines have proved decidedly unstable and a century later it has become clear the map needs to be redrawn. The result of a diplomatic solution might replace Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq with some combination of an Alawite- Shia state, a Maronite Christian state, a Kurdish state, a Sunni Arab state, a Shia Arab state, and an Assyrian state. Borders might be moved to put more ethnic Turks inside Turkey and more Kurds inside a Kurdish state. Giving the Sunnis of Iraq and Syria their own state might go a long way to reducing conflict. There would need to be plebiscites and voluntary population exchanges.
- Oppose Islamist extremists. The first step is recognizing that extremist, ideologically expansionist, Islamist ideology of both Shia and Sunni variety as belief systems every bit at odds with the US system as was Soviet Communism during the Cold War. This suggests a strategy of cultivating and partnering with moderate Islamic forces and helping them economically while destabilizing and undermining their more extremist opponents.
- Go in to win or get out: The muddled execution of contradictory policy has produced bloody wars of attrition and achieved little of enduring value. Trying to be even-handed, like a pre-school teacher imposing order on a playground brawl, was the implicit approach under Obama and it was disastrous. A much better approach: reward our allies, cut -off neutrals playing both sides, and help our allies to utterly destroy those who call themselves our enemies. Stay out of wars of attrition. Stop punitive strikes. If US forces are to be committed, demand Congressional approval, and then push for decisive victories and follow up with permanent political changes.
A major effort must be made to determine our goals and a strategy to achieve them. This must be based on a realistic understanding of the region and the long history of its peoples and religions.