Frederic C. Hof

  • Raqqa Falls. Now Comes the Hard Part

    As the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) is driven from its strongholds in Syria, US-backed forces face the challenge of stabilizing these conflict-ravaged territories.

    This task is made more urgent by the fact that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and Iran-backed militias are swooping in on eastern Syria in an attempt to capitalize on ISIS’ defeat, said Frederic C. Hof, director of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

    “If they succeed, the basis for ISIS 2.0 will be set,” said Hof, adding: “After all, it was the Iranian (and Russian)-supported brutality of the Assad regime that created the governance vacuum filled by ISIS in the first place.”

    The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said on October 16 that they had seized control of Raqqa, the de facto capital of ISIS’ “caliphate.” A US-backed civilian council, which has been based in Ayn Issa, north of Raqqa, will now seek to stabilize Raqqa.

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  • JCPOA or Assad? Capillary vs Artery

    The Trump administration is focusing properly on blocking the destabilizing, terrorist-abetting activities of Iran in Mesopotamia, the Levant, and elsewhere. Yet rather than addressing the worst of those activities head-on, it is confounding allies and risking Western unity by making the 2015 nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – JCPOA) the centerpiece of its roll-back strategy. One alternative to an all-or-nothing bet on the JCPOA would be for the administration to concentrate its attention and that of allies and partners on the one place where Tehran has stacked a major portion of its own chips: in Syria and on the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

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  • Dealing with Depression

    It is hard to have a conversation about Syria without speaking or hearing the words “how depressing.” This has, in fact, been true for years. The Obama administration observed, unopposed, a relentless, multi-year campaign of civilian mass homicide by a larcenous, incompetent, and brutal regime, one fully enabled and encouraged by Russia and Iran. The administration protected not one Syrian from a homicidal government, pretending that to try to do so could make things worse: a time-honored excuse for inaction in the face of mass murder. It stood aside and averted its gaze from the slaughter of innocents so that a nuclear agreement—supposedly the jewel in the crown of the administration’s foreign policy achievements—could be had with the Assad regime’s principal accomplice. Indeed, given the extent of humanitarian abomination and policy malfeasance, depression may be the luxury of those not directly affected by systematic state terror and its consequences, both human and policy.

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  • 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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