Frederic C. Hof

  • Frederic C. Hof’s Remarks on Syria at the World Affairs Council

    Below are remarks Ambassador Frederic C. Hof gave yesterday at the World Affairs Council of Greater Reading in Pennsylvannia regarding the continued importance of Syria policy and the role of the United States in the ongoing conflict.

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  • Strategic Change and its Challenges

    During the Obama administration, Syria was treated as a two-part puzzle divided by the Euphrates River. East of the Euphrates, the objective was to degrade and destroy ISIS (ISIL, Daesh, Islamic State). The strategy was to support the anti-ISIS combat operations of a Kurdish (eventually Kurdish-dominated) militia with weapons, ammunition, supplies, and advisors on the ground, and combat aircraft aloft. Although the Trump administration believes it can take credit for having accelerated the anti-ISIS campaign, the objective and strategy in the east have remained constant.

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  • The Khashoggi Reset

    The murder of Jamal Khashoggi—a resident of the United States and a citizen of a Kingdom that owed him protection—highlights the purely transactional nature of the relationship between Riyadh and Washington. Although the transactions themselves are important—ensuring the secure transit of petroleum supplies to the world market, sustaining intelligence exchanges on terrorist threats, countering Iranian destabilization, and a security assistance relationship that projects protective American power while boosting the American defense industry—Saudi actions undermining the transactions themselves mandate for Washington a time-out and reset.

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  • Trump, Mattis, Bolton: On the Same Page?

    Recent remarks by National Security Advisor John Bolton suggesting that the United States will maintain a presence—presumably military—in Syria until the departure of Iranian-led forces from that ruined country have inspired a flurry of media commentary, questioning, and speculation. Only a few months ago US President Trump was calling for a near-term American evacuation of Syria. And Secretary of Defense Mattis has stressed time and again that his military mission—the one for which he has the appropriate authorities—is to defeat ISIS (ISIL, Daesh, Islamic State). Has Bolton “hijacked” the Syria policy? Is Mattis along for a ride with someone else at the wheel? The view here is that there is less to the story of a Bolton-Mattis disconnect than some in the media would pretend, but that there is an interesting story of presidential policy evolution regarding Syria to be pursued.

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  • President Carter's Plan for Syria is Unrealistic

    In an op-ed (“In Syria, An Ugly Peace is Better than More War”) published in The New York Timeson August 24, 2018, former President Jimmy Carter lays out a prescriptive course for Syria sure to be welcomed by an Assad regime preparing now to inflict state terror on civilians in Syria’s northwest. Mr. Carter rightly condemns the continuation of armed conflict and offers hope for Syrian healing and rebuilding. Yet he effectively entrusts the process itself to a criminal entity while asking Western governments to reengage it diplomatically, lift economic sanctions, and even undermine the American-led stabilization of post-ISIS (ISIL, Daesh, Islamic State) northeast Syria by encouraging Kurds to strike an autonomy deal with the regime—one the regime would never honor.

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  • Remembering John McCain

    US Sen. John McCain—a Vietnam veteran, six-term senator, and recipient of the Atlantic Council’s Freedom Award—passed away on August 25. He was 81. Atlantic Council leadership and fellows share their tributes to McCain.

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  • Chemical Warnings and Unintended Consequences

    On August 21, 2018 the United States, France, and the United Kingdom issued a statement to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Assad regime’s deadly chemical attack on civilians in the rebel-held Ghouta suburb of Damascus. According to the three powers, “we will respond appropriately to any further use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime, which has had such devastating humanitarian consequences for the Syria people.” The unintended but inevitable message to Assad is clear: As your campaign of state terror and mass homicide moves to densely populated areas of northwestern Syria, we will limit ourselves to rhetorical outrage and finger-shaking provided you avoid the use of illegal chemicals.

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  • Kofi Annan, RIP

    For anyone who has sought, over the past seven-plus years, to mitigate the suffering of Syrian civilians, promote political transition, and bring the Syrian conflict to an end, the passing of Kofi Annan on August 18 is particularly poignant.  His penultimate role on the world stage was that of United Nations-Arab League Joint Special Envoy for Syria.  He played that role with courage, grace, decency, and determination.  Had he received the support he merited, Syria would today be in its sixth year of recovery, reconciliation, and legitimate governance.

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  • Yemen: End This Abomination Now

    For the past seven years, this writer has viewed the Syrian uprising largely through the lens of civilian protection, because civilian slaughter has defined the conflict and dictated its dire political consequences. Although one may ascribe vastly different motives to the President of Syria on the one hand and the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on the other, war in Yemen is producing similar slaughter that may, if left unaddressed and untreated, haunt the combatants and their external supporters—led by the United States—for decades to come.

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  • Is Syria Lost to Iran?

    The short answer is “No.” A family and an entourage that placed itself at the disposal of Iran while burning much of Syria to the ground will not prevail, provided the United States and its partners begin to push back. Yet termites are at work, and the fulfillment of this proviso is far from certain.

    The Trump administration, unlike its predecessor, claims to oppose Iran’s domination of what is left of the Syrian state. Unlike his predecessor, US President Donald Trump did not hesitate to strike militarily when Bashar al-Assad, supported by Iran and Russia, twice assaulted defenseless civilians with sarin nerve agent. When Russian “military contractors” sought, in February of this year, to cross the Euphrates River to attack American-held positions, there was no ignominious retreat. On the contrary, the Kremlin learned a hard lesson about testing American resolve east of the Euphrates de-confliction line. Iranian-led Shia militias and regime military units have been similarly educated.

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