America’s muddled involvement with Syria
America in the Middle East: learning curves are for pussies.—Jon Stewart, The Daily Show, June 2, 2015.
In January 2017, following Donald Trump’s inauguration, his national security staffers entered their White House offices for the first time. One told me that when he searched for the previous administration’s Middle East policy files, the cupboard was bare. “There wasn’t an overarching strategy document for anywhere in the Middle East,” the senior official, who insisted on anonymity, told me in a coffee shop near the White House. “Not even on the ISIS campaign, so there wasn’t a cross-governmental game plan.”
Rob Malley, President Barack Obama’s senior Middle East adviser and Harvard Law School classmate, denied the charge. “That can’t be true,” the fifty-five-year-old scholar insisted when we met in his office at the International Crisis Group in Washington. “We provided comprehensive memoranda to the incoming team, though we can’t know if they read them. We definitely had a long one on Syria, on all aspects of the conflict.”
I have observed the Syrian conflict off and on since it began, in 2011, filing stories from Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Palmyra, the Turkish border, and other zones of contention. But the story as seen from inside Syria seemed as incomplete as the Trojan War without the gods. In the conflagration’s eighth year, I flew to the Olympian heights of Washington to ask the immortals what they were doing while an estimated half million of Syria’s twenty-three million inhabitants were dying, millions more fled the country, and some of civilization’s most precious monuments were destroyed…
This article was published in Harper’s Magazine, the oldest general-interest monthly in America, exploring the issues that drive national conversation. To read the full article please visit their website