January 12, 2017
Combating Al-Qaeda in Syria: A Strategy for the Next President
By Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East
The Syrian war will enter its seventh year in 2017, and the new administration will inherit a situation in which al-Qaeda grows stronger not only on the ground, but in the spread of its ideology. Syria will be a crucial arena for the new administration to combat the growing power of the Salafi jihadist movement that is increasingly seen as the “mainstream” alternative to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in the Middle East. While there are factors the panelists did not agree upon, they “all agreed inaction is not an option.” Inaction, the group argued, has allowed the Syrian government to expand its control, creating a space for al-Qaeda in Syria to portray itself as a Syrian social movement and a leader in the opposition. As the world watches ISIS, al-Qaeda in Syria ingratiates itself in communities and influences a new generation of Syrians. In order to counter the group’s rise, which threatens the stability of the region and the United States’ NATO allies, the panelists encouraged engagement and support of civil society in Syria by the new administration. The panelists also argued that civilian protection, a service al-Qaeda provides to win-over civilians, should become a US priority in Syria. Besides being a humanitarian failure, neglecting the Syrian people will only feed into al-Qaeda’s rhetoric. The panelists urged the new administration to dig into the roots of the crisis in Syria, of which al-Qaeda is only a symptom, and use more than a purely military approach.