The Future of US Policy in Syria

December 17, 2018 - 12:00 pm

Registration for this event has closed. We invite you to watch the webcast of the event here.

We are pleased to announce the launch of two new Atlantic Council reports: "Rethinking Stabilization in Eastern Syria: Toward a Human Security Framework," authored by Dr. Steven Heydemann for the Atlantic Council's Rebuilding Syria Initiative, and"Breaking Ghouta,"produced by the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab, released as the conflict in Syria confronts the United States with crucial policy decisions.

Digital Forensic Research Lab Director Graham Brookie will open the event with a presentation on "Breaking Ghouta." Following this, Atlantic Council Senior Fellow Faysal Itani, who directs the Rebuilding Syria Initiative and contributed analysis to "Breaking Ghouta," will moderate a panel discussion of issues raised in these reports and the future of US policy in Syria, featuring Dr. Heydemann and Dr. Wittes.

The panel discussion will be followed by a keynote address by US Special Representative for Syria Engagement Ambassador James Jeffrey. Amb. Jeffrey will provide an overview of US policy in Syria and share insights on the challenges ahead in 2019.  Atlantic Council Senior Advisor for Middle East Programs William Wechsler will moderate audience questions for Ambassador Jeffrey. 

On Twitter? Follow @ACmideast, @DFRLabs and panelists @fitani, @sheydemann, and @tcwittes.

This event is open to press and on the record.

VISITING THE COUNCIL: Metro and parking info


11:45 a.m.: Lunch Served

12:00 p.m.: Panel Discussion

Mr. Graham Brookie

Director and Managing Editor, Digital Forensic Research Lab

Atlantic Council

Dr. Steven Heydemann 

Janet W. Ketcham 1953 Professor in Middle East Studies

Smith College

Dr. Tamara Cofman Wittes

Senior Fellow, Center for Middle East Policy

Brookings Institution

Moderated by Mr. Faysal Itani

Senior Fellow, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East

Atlantic Council

1:30 p.m.: Keynote Address

Amb. James Jeffrey

Special Representative for Syria Engagement

US Department of State

Moderated by Mr. William Wechsler

Senior Advisor, Middle East Programs

Atlantic Council


Mr. Graham Brookie is the director and managing editor of the Digital Forensic Research Lab (@DFRLab), a start-up within the Atlantic Council focused on building digital resilience. Prior to joining the @DFRLab, Brookie served in various positions at the White House and National Security Council. His most recent role was as an adviser for strategic communications with a focus on digital strategy, audience engagement, and coordinating a cohesive record of former US President Barack Obama’s national security and foreign policy. Previously he served as the adviser to the assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism (APHSCT), the president’s top aide for cybersecurity, counterterrorism, intelligence, and homeland security issues. He also worked in the East Asia, Middle East, and North Africa directorates at the National Security Council. 

Dr. Steven Heydemann holds the Janet Wright Ketcham 1953 Chair at Smith College, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government. Heydemann is also a nonresident senior fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy of the Brookings Institution. From 2007–15 he held leadership positions at the U.S. Institute of Peace including vice president of applied research on conflict and senior adviser for the Middle East. Prior to joining USIP, he was director of the Center for Democracy and Civil Society at Georgetown University and associate professor in the government department. From 1997 to 2001, he was an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Columbia University. In addition, Heydemann consults widely with the U.S. government, NGOs and European governments on issues relating to Syria policy and the status of the Syrian conflict. He writes regularly on Syria for major media outlets and has appeared as a Syria expert on leading television networks, including the BBC, al-Arabiyya, al-Jazeera, the New York Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy Journal and PBS.

Dr. Tamara Cofman Wittes is a senior fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings. Wittes served as deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs from November of 2009 to January 2012, coordinating U.S. policy on democracy and human rights in the Middle East during the Arab uprisings. Wittes also oversaw the Middle East Partnership Initiative and served as deputy special coordinator for Middle East transitions. Wittes joined Brookings in December of 2003. Previously, she served as a Middle East specialist at the U.S. Institute of Peace and director of programs at the Middle East Institute in Washington. She has also taught courses in international relations and security studies at Georgetown University. Wittes was one of the first recipients of the Rabin-Peres Peace Award, established by President Bill Clinton in 1997. She holds a bachelor's in Judaic and Near Eastern studies from Oberlin College, and a master's and doctorate in government from Georgetown University. She serves on the board of the National Democratic Institute, as well as the advisory board of the Israel Institute, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and Women in International Security.

Mr. Faysal Itani is a resident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, where he focuses primarily on the Syrian conflict and its regional impact. He is also an adjunct professor of Middle East politics at George Washington University. Itani was born and grew up in Beirut, Lebanon and has lived and worked in several Arab countries. Before joining the Atlantic Council, he was a risk analyst advising governments, corporations, and international organizations on political, economic, and security issues in the Middle East. Itani has repeatedly briefed the United States government and its allies on the conflict in Syria and its effects on their interests. He has been widely published and quoted in prominent media including The New York Times, TIME, Politico, The Washington Post, CNN, US News, Huffington Post, and The Wall Street Journal.

Amb. James Franklin Jeffrey currently serves as the Secretary’s Special Representative for Syria Engagement. He is a senior American diplomat with experience in political, security, and energy issues in the Middle East, Turkey, Germany, and the Balkans. He has held senior assignments in Washington, DC, and abroad, including as Deputy National Security Advisor (2007–2008); United States Ambassador to Iraq (2010–2012); United States Ambassador to Turkey (2008–2010); and United States Ambassador to Albania (2002–2004). In 2010 Jeffrey was appointed to the highest rank in the U.S. Foreign Service, Career Ambassador. From 1969 to 1976, Jeffrey was a U.S. Army infantry officer, with service in Germany and Vietnam.

Mr. William Wechsler is Senior Advisor for Middle East Programs at the Atlantic Council and Interim Director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. Mr. Wechsler’s most recent government position was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Combatting Terrorism. He advised multiple Secretaries and helped coordinate interagency policies on a wide range of direct and indirect actions. His portfolio included the Department’s policies, plans, authorities and resources related to special operations and irregular warfare, with an emphasis on counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, information operations and other sensitive operations. He he also helped provide civilian oversight for the service-like responsibilities of the United States Special Operations Command. Previously Mr. Wechsler served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Counternarcotics and Global Threats, where he directed a budget of $1.6 billion and oversaw military and civilian programs around the globe. His key areas of focus included integrating law enforcement operations into our military campaigns in Afghanistan and institutionalizing military counter threat finance structures and doctrine.