Frederic C. Hof

  • Who’s in Charge?

    For a fleeting moment on the 10th of August the high wall of media apathy over the war in eastern Syria and its connection to American national security interests was breached. A reporter asked an American military spokesman about the anti-terror implications of permitting Iranian-led, Shia foreign fighters and armed elements of the Assad regime into Sunni eastern Syria to take over from ISIS (ISIL, Daesh, or the Islamic State) in places like Deir Ezzor. Might ISIS eventually resurrect itself in areas taken over by bad actors like Iran and Assad? The spokesman’s response: “That is not an immediate concern of ours, but I don't know if we have looked into that more deeply. Again, I told you where our focus is now and where our efforts are concentrated.” That focus and those efforts are on the city of Raqqa and the killing of ISIS: full stop.

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  • Thinking About Strategy: Part Four

    This fourth and final part of a series on American objectives and strategy for Syria aims to suggest parameters of a strategy to achieve the following objective (from part three):

    We seek a Syria that poses no national security threats to the United States, its allies, and its friends; a country pacified enough to permit the rapid dispatch of humanitarian aid to all in need; a stable country where legitimate governance rooted, at the national and local levels, in the consent of the governed precludes the rise of terrorism, extremism, and armed rebellion; an independent country free of terrorist groups and external suzerainty, one whose territorial integrity is respected and one rid of foreign military forces except those mandated internationally or agreed to bilaterally by a legitimate national government; an economically viable country where reform, reconciliation, reconstruction, accountability, and the protection of civilians permit the return of refugees and the internally displaced to their homes.

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  • Thinking About Strategy: Part Three

    Parts one and two of this series discussed the difficulties of officials thinking strategically about Syria, given the policy catastrophe bequeathed to the Trump administration by its predecessor. It then offered a list of outcomes the United States might nevertheless try to achieve. Although seeking nothing is an option, American disengagement would be a roll of the dice.

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  • Thinking About Strategy: Part Two

    Part One of this series discussed why it is not easy to arrive at a coherent national security objective for Syria. The Trump administration inherited from its predecessor a policy catastrophe: the carcass of a state set upon by a ruling family whose homicidal excesses were protected by Iran (with which the Obama administration desperately wished to have a nuclear agreement); and ISIS (ISIL, Daesh, Islamic State), which was given sufficient time to sink roots in Syria and mount ferocious terror attacks in Turkey and Western Europe. Having been dealt this worst of all possible hands, what could the new administration realistically hope to achieve in Syria?

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  • Thinking About Strategy: Part One

    The decision of the Trump administration to end its support for armed, anti-Assad Syrian rebels again raises questions of what the United States considers a desirable and attainable end-state for Syria, and how it plans to achieve it. These questions were avoided by an Obama administration that treated Syria’s humanitarian and security catastrophes as a public information campaign to be managed so that it could get and keep a nuclear deal with Bashar al-Assad’s best friend: Iran. Obviously, the Trump administration subordinates nothing to the nuclear agreement. But given the Syrian policy inheritance they have received from their predecessors, how do the president and his advisers even begin to define achievable objectives and sensible strategies?

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  • Hof Quoted in The Washington Post on Demise of CIA's Anti-Assad Program


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  • Hof Quoted in Business Insider on Ending Support for Syrian Rebel Groups


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  • Defining Down to Defeat

    Imagine if, in 1945, the War Department and senior American commanders in Europe and Asia had been permitted to define victory simply as the fall of Berlin and Tokyo, with no post-combat stabilization and reconstruction program for either Germany or Japan. Imagine if, in 2003, the United States had invaded Iraq without a realistic, implementable plan for governance after the fall of Baghdad and Saddam Hussein. Imagine if the West had fought Qaddafi in 2011 without much thought given to what would replace him. In fact, no imagination at all is required for the cases of Iraq and Libya. Both operations were undertaken with no serious regard to what would follow. Both produced disaster.

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  • Hof Quoted in YNet News on Syrian Cease-Fire Concerns


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  • Hof Quoted in U.S. News on Death of Baghdadi


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