Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Do Iraq and Syria no longer really exist? And if so, should that be the basis of revising U.S. policy? A roundup (1): Yes

Yes, on Syria; not clear on Iraq Joel Rayburn, author of Iraq after America: Strongmen, Sectarians, Resistance: "Syria no longer exists, certainly not in the way that we have known it, and I think the Syrian state can never be reconstituted within its old borders. In other words, some new political arrangement is going to ...

via Wikimedia
via Wikimedia

Yes, on Syria; not clear on Iraq

Joel Rayburn, author of Iraq after America: Strongmen, Sectarians, Resistance:

"Syria no longer exists, certainly not in the way that we have known it, and I think the Syrian state can never be reconstituted within its old borders. In other words, some new political arrangement is going to emerge in Syria, and in my opinion it is highly unlikely to be a unitary state.

Yes, on Syria; not clear on Iraq

Joel Rayburn, author of Iraq after America: Strongmen, Sectarians, Resistance:

"Syria no longer exists, certainly not in the way that we have known it, and I think the Syrian state can never be reconstituted within its old borders. In other words, some new political arrangement is going to emerge in Syria, and in my opinion it is highly unlikely to be a unitary state.

But I do think that Iraq still exists, and that there’s still some hope that it can remain intact. So there is a distinct difference between the health of the Iraqi state and the health of the Syrian state, and I think, actually, our strategy takes that into account.

Having said that, ISIS in my view poses an existential threat to the unitary Iraqi state, and the longer they control large swaths of Iraqi territory, the more difficult it will be to restore Iraqi state control to those areas, let alone restore good governance to them. Let us assume that the campaign against ISIS succeeds in retaking all the territory the group holds now, and succeeds in rendering them back into a mere terrorist group that has to operate underground. 

When the dust settles after that outcome, the difficult trick will be reintegrating all of Iraq’s territories and communities into a functional state — not just the Sunni majority territories that ISIS now holds, but the entirety of the country, including the south, and Iraqi Kurdistan. One element that will make it more difficult to do that long-term reintegration is the proliferation of militias that are being used to fight ISIS in the near term. As was the case back in 2006-2007, many Iraqi leaders are assuming that once the ISIS (formerly AQI) threat is neutralized, the militias will naturally disband because their raison d’être will no longer exist. I believe that that assumption will prove to be as misguided as it was back in 2007. When the AQI threat receded back then, the militias did not lay down their arms; instead, they went to war against the Iraqi state, and it wound up being a close-run thing. I hope today’s Iraqi leaders will learn from that lesson."

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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