Frederic C. Hof

  • Hope for Syria in 2018?

    Is there any hope at all that a New Year’s wish for Syrian peace and quiet will be fulfilled? Yes, there is always hope. But if there is anything to be learned from the sad spectacle of Western (mainly American) Syria policy over the past nearly seven years, it is that hope—accompanied only by lofty rhetoric and plaintive protest—is the emptiest and most useless of sentiments. Absent real commitment to protect Syrian civilians, 2018 and the years that follow will be marked by the emptying of a country where hope is as homeless as millions of Syrian men, women, and children.

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  • Protecting Syrian Civilians: The Road Not Taken

    During 70 months of chaos in Syria, the United States had protected not one Syrian civilian from the homicidal rampages of Bashar al-Assad and his remorseless regime. Yes, America had come militarily to the aid of Syrian Kurds besieged by ISIS (ISIL, Daesh, Islamic State). Yet the United States had protected no one in Syria from an Iranian client regime’s campaign of civilian mass homicide.  The consequences were profoundly negative for Syrians, their neighbors, Western Europe, and the United States.  And they were avoidable.

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  • ISIS, Syria, and Iraq: A Year-End Appraisal

    As 2017 closes, so does the physical “caliphate” of a pseudo-religious criminal enterprise known by the names ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, and Islamic State. But killing the caliphate is only step one. Keeping it dead will be a generational struggle.

    Rooted in al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and supplemented by pro-Saddam Hussein Iraqi Baathists, ISIS seized the Syrian city of Raqqa from Syrian rebels in 2013 and, from there, invaded Iraq in 2014. For over three years an American-led military coalition has sought to degrade and destroy a ruthless collection of murderers, rapists, thieves, and terrorists; a band of criminals drawn from the dregs of the Sunni Arab world seeking to mask crude depredations by purporting to act in the name of Islam.

    The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and other brands of murderous extremism are the results of political illegitimacy. Legitimacy exists when there is societal consensus that a political system is right and just: consensus reflecting the consent of the governed. Legitimate systems can survive incompetent presidents, prime ministers, and kings. Illegitimacy reflects consensus that the system is rotten and merits destruction. Unless sustained by violent coercion, an illegitimate political system can open a governance vacuum. ISIS is a vacuum-filler.

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  • Hof Quoted in WSJ on Latest Syria Peace Talks


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  • Putin Declares Mission Accomplished

    The quick visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Hmeimim airbase in Syria was all about Russian domestic politics. The first—and Putin hopes last—round of Russian presidential elections is scheduled for March 18, 2018. In his pre-Christmas proclamation of victory over “terrorists” and in preserving Syria as a “sovereign independent state,” Putin reiterated his central, Syria-related message to his nationalist domestic audience: Russia is back as a great power. In declaring to Russian pilots that “you are going home to your families, parents, wives, children and friends,” Putin sought to assure Russian voters that Syria would be no quagmire. Yet Putin’s second announcement of military withdrawal from Syria may, like the first (in March 2016), be more rhetorical than real.

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  • Frederic C. Hof's Remarks at the NATO Parliamentary Forum

    Below are remarks by Ambassador Frederic C. Hof at the NATO Parliamentary Forum at the National Defense University on Dec. 11, 2017 that touched upon the evolving US approach to Syria and Iraq.

    I’ve been asked to discuss the evolving US approach to Iraq and Syria. I will try to do so as accurately and as briefly as possible. Brevity will not be a problem. Accuracy may be something else. I’ve been out of government for five years, and although I stay in touch with former colleagues and try to offer ideas on objectives and strategy, I do not purport to know what the commander-in-chief has decided on key issues affecting Syria and Iraq.

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  • Cooperate with Russia?

    Russian President Vladimir Putin has all-but-declared victory in Syria. He has welcomed his Syrian counterpart to Moscow and has spoken at length telephonically with President Trump. He has preserved a Syrian family enterprise steeped in criminality and left the “state” he claims to have saved firmly in the hands of Iran. To the extent this grim result is a “victory,” it is not a triumph of the Russian Federation. It is personal in nature: it is Exhibit A in Vladimir Putin’s assertion to his domestic constituents that he has restored Russia as a world power; that Russians need not dwell on economic shortfalls or chronic corruption; that the days of post-Cold War humiliation and disgrace are over.

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  • Squaring the Circle in Eastern Syria

    Readers of SyriaSource are all too familiar with an argument advanced in these pages for well-over two years: ISIS (Daesh, ISIL, Islamic State) should be neutralized quickly in eastern Syria; an American-led, professional ground force coalition-of-the-willing should be assembled to preempt ISIS terror operations in Turkey and Western Europe and minimize Syrian civilian casualties in complex urban battle terrain; and that a post-combat stabilization plan should be drafted and implemented to keep ISIS dead, one drawing on pre-ISIS local councils and the anti-Assad Syrian opposition. The idea was to parlay the defeat of ISIS into a stable, protected eastern Syria where humanitarian aid could be expedited and reconstruction begun, and to exclude the cause of terrorism and state failure in Syria—the Assad regime—from the area.

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  • Assad and Legitimacy

    During the Obama administration, one of the many public throw-away lines designed to paper-over an adamant refusal to protect civilians from a homicidal regime was that the President of Syria—Bashar al-Assad—“lacked all legitimacy.” Russia, on the other hand characterized Assad as the paragon of legitimacy: as the chief of a state represented in the United Nations; a state allegedly subjected to the regime-change machinations of that well-known militarist, Barack Obama. What is the truth? What are the practical implications of legitimacy—or the lack thereof—in Syria?

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  • Hof Quoted in LA Times on Trump and Iran


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