The world should stop worrying so much about putting “humpty dumpty” Syria “back together again” former top-Pentagon official Douglass Feith has told The Jerusalem Post.
Considered the policy architect behind many of the Bush administration’s war on terror policies, Feith, now Director of the Center for National Security Strategies at the Hudson Institute, made the comments to the Post late Thursday leading into his appearance later this week at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism conference.
Asked if there is any potential positive outcome from the Syrian civil war according to the US or Israeli view or how he would deal with the myriad problematic actors in the Syrian arena, Feith demurred.
However, he did say that he thought that those who were stuck with the idea of maintaining Syria’s borders as they were set by colonial European powers after World War I were making a mistake.
“Rather than being locked into a decision that happened to be reflecting key ideas that [British prime minister] Lloyd George had in mind in 1920, we should be thinking more broadly,” he said.
The ex-Pentagon official asked rhetorically: “What is the situation? What changes are in order…would make the region happier, freer, more prosperous, more peaceful going forward?” He suggested leaders ”break out” of the idea that the borders should remain exactly as they were before the war.
“Whether Syria can hang together as a state is a serious question. People should not be focused on…that humpty dumpty has to be put back together again,” he said.
While the Trump administration has said it would take a stronger stance in Syria than the Obama administration had, it hasn’t been without its critiques. Israeli leaders said that Trump, in orchestrating a ceasefire with Russian President Vladimir Putin, threw Israeli security concerns – particularly those with Iran – under the bus.
He did not assert that Israel would be thrilled with all aspects of Trump’s policy in Syria.
Rather, he compared Obama and Trump on a range of Syria-related issues.
He said that the Obama administration, he ”didn’t see any significant group arguing that the proper strategic view for Syria is understanding Syria as part of the Iran problem. At least there is a debate about that among Trump people.”
Continuing the point, he said that, “one of the most important ideas of the Obama years was that the US could and should pursue a strategic partnership with Iran. I don’t think that is a view…in the Trump administration.”
He then went big picture on the Syria issue, asserting “Syria is a more complex picture because of all kinds of perspectives. How does Syria relate to Iran? To Russia? To Turkey? To Israel? To the whole issue of the American relationship with the Kurds? The Lebanon angle?”
In other words, while Israeli concerns might be valid, the US perspective on Syria would likely weigh Israeli needs along with a range of key priorities.
He added, “all complexities have not been sorted out through debates. There is turmoil in the White House…this administration is suffering from the fact that they hardly have any political appointees in the national security area.”
Feith, despite being critical of the Iran nuclear deal, has spoken out against Trump’s calls to tear it up or employ another strategy to strip the deal of its purpose, he remains in favor of finding a way to destabilize the regime.
“When one talks about tearing up the deal, there is the problem that the Iranians have already gotten what they wanted. Tearing it up would simply mean releasing Iran in return for getting all the things they got,” he said, referring to unfreezing Iranian assets and the flow of foreign investment.
He was pessimistic about how successful reimposing sanctions without a broader strategy or trying to extend the Iran deal beyond its expiration date would actually be.
He also rejected the idea that after these options, there was no choice but a military option. “A military strike is not the only option. But the first question of the analysis should sound like this: what should our strategic goals regarding Iran be? Do not focus narrowly on the nuclear issue,” he said, encouraging others to focus on a range of Iranian threats.
He criticized Obama again for seeking a partnership with Iran and complimented the Trump administration for moving away from that while also expressing doubt about Trump’s broader approach. ”I don’t know yet. I do not think they have…developed a comprehensive strategy.”
His preferred strategy is to exploit “the Iranian regime’s…vulnerabilities. One of the things that makes sense is to return to the kind of policy that plays on Iran’s vulnerability. Before the UN removed sanctions…the economic squeeze on Iran was hurting Iran in a way that really bothered them.”
“There are political vulnerabilities which relate to the economic situation. I would like to see a comprehensive policy for different kinds of ways we want to change the picture,” in order to then reduce the nuclear threat, threats to Israel and the US and threats to the Gulf states.
Feith will speak at IDC Herzliya’s ICT Conference comparing the Bush, Obama and Trump administration’s approaches to confronting terror.
One striking point he is likely to make which may engender controversy is questioning part of the conference’s premise of focusing on terror as the broader problem whereas his view is “radical Islam is a problem of which terror is a subset.”