October 16th, 2014
07:20 PM ET

Obama needs to dial back his Syria strategy

By Fareed Zakaria

A U.S. strategy of escalating airstrikes in Syria — even if coupled with ground forces — would wish that the weakest and most disorganized forces in the country somehow become the strongest, first defeating the Islamic State, then the Assad regime, all while fighting off Jabhat al-Nusra and Khorasan. The chance that all this will happen is remote. Far more likely, heavy bombings in Syria will produce chaos and instability on the ground, further destroying Syria and promoting the free-for-all in which jihadi groups thrive.

Critics are sure this policy would have been easy three years ago, when the opposition to Assad was more secular and democratic. This is a fantasy. It’s true that the demonstrations against the Assad regime in the initial months seemed to be carried out by more secular and liberal people. This was also true in Libya and Egypt. But over time, more organized, passionate and religious forces triumphed. This is a familiar pattern in revolutions — including the French, Russian and Iranian. They are begun by liberals and taken over by radicals.

Read the Washington Post column

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Topics: Fareed's Take

soundoff (135 Responses)
  1. Take a Sabbatical Fareed

    Experimental democracy is DOA (Dead On Arrival) in India. It is has never worked in large populated countries. Particularly those with mostly illiterate populace such as India. The recent "selection" of Modi ....a murderer, raipist and stalker is a testament to this failure. Too big to manage, minorities such as muslims, sikhs, christians get disenfranchised etc. India will need to go back to its socialist/communist roots. Maybe splitting it up into smaller pieces (circa USSR) is an alternate scenario. CIA is probably running some models to deal with the potential implosion.

    October 16, 2014 at 8:30 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Obama's strategy in Syria reflects also what Joshua Landis estimates. The regime "controls about half of Syrian territory, though much more of the population". It explains why Obama is reluctant to take on Bashar al-Assad. As long as the regime remains in power, it serves as a wedge against the ISIS advance. If Assad falls, ISIS will benefit from it. It controls "about one-third of the country, and the other militias control a little less than 20 percent". Al-Nusra and other al-Qaeda affiliated groups "are the largest and most effective", but they are " also deadly enemies of the United States". So it would look messy if the regime falls, other groups would either join ISIS or be wiped out.
      The so-called moderate rebels – "non-jihadi groups collectively control less than 5 percent of Syria". They fight two enemies – ISIS and the regime. As they are backed by Washington, they have also urged the US to target Assad's pernicious forces. They resent the US for not doing so, saying the slaughter benefits from airstrikes against ISIS, as it would allow him to retake lost territories.
      Obama's strategic policy in Syria is quite limited – helping the Syrian Kurds and training the "moderate" rebels. Airstrikes will target ISIS sites and degrade its military capabilities there.
      A "containment" strategy would only help ISIS consolidate its power in Syria. We may see the country controlled by ISIS and the regime, if they don't fight and try to destroy each other. Perhaps it could be Assad's last chapter of history – being beheaded by ISIS!

      October 17, 2014 at 6:06 pm | Reply
  2. Blue Saffron

    @ Take a Sabbatical Fareed: your post was music to my ears. Forget Syria let us focus on the debacle in hindooland where population growth is out of control and most of American aid is going. Here is my take.
    "Experimental Democracy" has failed in India. An experiment that was being shoved down India's throat by western countries too eager to propagate their own values on a country that was trying to decolonize itself while trying to shed the communist skin of being a Soviet ally. India was thus trapped. What has become evident now is that this "Experimental Democracy" has marginalized the country. The marginalized groups of the country – Dalits and ‘backward’ castes/classes, indigenous ‘tribal’ people and religious minorities have been disenfranchised.

    October 16, 2014 at 8:33 pm | Reply
  3. Philip

    Syria's biggest problem is the worst drought to ever hit that country. Not a bunch of yahoo Muslim Brotherhood caring themselves "ISIS" now. Get a clue. Over 3 million Syrians have fled this worst drought ever. How many ran away from your boogeyman "ISIS".

    October 16, 2014 at 8:40 pm | Reply
    • Lester

      They fled a war, not a drought. If that were true, people would be fleeing Bavaria in droves. Why aren't they?

      October 17, 2014 at 10:47 am | Reply
      • Philip

        Stfu @ Lester. Syria has been experiencing the worst drought in that nation's history for the past 3 years. Just as Colorado has received less than 20% of usual precipitation for 3 years in a row. Our worst droughts EVER!
        You are an idiot, Lester.

        October 17, 2014 at 12:40 pm |
      • Lester

        Wow. No, I will not "shut the ____ up, Lester." Is this your normal style of talking to people?

        I'm not the idiot. I point out your logical failures. Where are the people of a Colorado fleeing to? Where are the Californians fleeing to? They're not? Exactly.

        Syria's people are fleeing because of war and internal strife. Not drought.

        October 17, 2014 at 1:32 pm |
  4. Blue Saffron

    I just farted. Real stinker. It smells soooo bad it knocked out a couple of cows.
    Bad Paki-Australian beans.

    October 17, 2014 at 7:53 am | Reply
  5. Blue Saffron

    To all my followers. I am in the hospital right now. The doctor says that I have a perferated ulcer. I will be undergoing emergency surgery shortly. There is a hole through my stomach lining. Wish me luck.
    To be continued...

    October 17, 2014 at 8:07 am | Reply
  6. Honey B

    Singapore has deported thousands of hindu terrorist people from India and issued warnings to remainder hindus for their involvement in the city-state's worst terrorism in more than 40 years this month, which shocked a nation that prides itself on its safety and orderliness.

    India is 20% of world population and 95% of all terrorism. Therefore every article about terrorism needs to discuss threats from India.

    October 17, 2014 at 9:15 am | Reply
  7. Blue Saffron

    You do make a good point, Fareed. We need not only to dial back but speed dial back American Foreign Policy. First off, a scan of prevalent global threats indicates none of them pose an existential threat to our great nation such threats are a reaction to the unsolved problems hanging out there such as plebiscite in Indian Occupied Kashmir and Palestine.

    Terrorism is rampant in the region in part financed by Indians. We need to revisit our relationship with India. American taxpayers will not tolerate this anymore. We need to take care of our own populace going forward. We cannot be exporting jobs to India or giving it financial or technical handouts. It has become too big to govern or create any value for western countries or even for its own population. India needs to be carved up into smaller independent states to be a viable economically and geo politically.

    October 17, 2014 at 9:52 am | Reply
    • Lester

      If we are to dial back our foreign policy, why should we be concerned with India at all?

      October 17, 2014 at 10:44 am | Reply
      • Better Tomorrow

        Simple. One reason is the population explosion of 1.5 billion people who are a burden on world resources.

        October 17, 2014 at 11:00 am |
      • Lester

        The population of the world is a drain on the world's resources. The largest consumer of the world's resources is China and the United States.

        October 17, 2014 at 11:06 am |
      • Better Tomorrow

        India's population is consuming more than it is producing. Get it?
        For god's sake cannibalism is now prevalent in India.

        October 17, 2014 at 11:12 am |
      • Lester

        Many countries consume more than they produce. Get it?

        October 17, 2014 at 11:15 am |
      • Better Tomorrow

        Name one country of 1.5 billion people that eats more than it produces like India!!

        October 17, 2014 at 11:27 am |
      • Lester

        North Korea comes to mind.

        October 17, 2014 at 11:34 am |
      • Lester

        And bear in mind that I am not addressing their population, but a country that consumes more than it produces and relies on foreign imports. Russia relies on foreign imports of grains, also by our question was framed in a loaded manner.

        October 17, 2014 at 11:37 am |
      • Lester

        That last part of my sentence should read "also, your question was framed in a loaded manner."

        October 17, 2014 at 11:39 am |
  8. chri§§y

    Drought? Good God you will just stop at nothing to push your warped agenda wont you? They left their country because of Assad! And if the US military were smart they would take out all of Syrias aircraft as ISIS is presently training to pilot those aircraft!

    October 17, 2014 at 10:01 am | Reply
    • Philip

      That's just what TV told you to believe, Chrissy. You are a programmed automaton. You have zero personal opinions. Your opinions are those of Big Media. You are nothing but a mockingbird.

      October 17, 2014 at 1:12 pm | Reply
  9. Tea Party Patriot

    A growing number of us are convinced that Sarah Palin is the only one who can heal and re-unify our country. But first she must return to her motorhome and resume her cross country tour. She will have to visit cities both large and small, being careful to speak only to real Americans, dispensing her sage advice and folksy, homespun common sense solutions. We can be a great nation again if we all follow the "Palin Path".

    October 17, 2014 at 10:08 am | Reply
  10. Better Tomorrow

    Syria is inconsequential. It does not pose existential threat to USA.

    To address India's problems, one has to start with the basic premise that "small is beautiful” and that India has become unmanageable in size. At times, the sum of parts is greater than the whole. And that is precisely where India needs to head. A controlled breakup of sorts.

    The thesis is that smaller independent states will generate tremendous economic demand for western nations, be democratically more efficient and easy to manage, a great source of demand for military equipment from the west, culturally h omogenous and will unleash opportunities for the people that will eradicate poverty.

    October 17, 2014 at 10:12 am | Reply
    • Lester

      India doesn't pose an existential threat problem to the United States either.

      October 17, 2014 at 10:39 am | Reply
      • Better Tomorrow

        Threat to ours and global resources.

        Remember India has over 1.5 billion people whose productivity is less than 10% of western countries.

        October 17, 2014 at 10:59 am |
      • Lester

        India doesn't pose an existential threat to the US. It only poses an existential threat to people who dislike India.

        October 17, 2014 at 11:08 am |
      • Lester

        Global resources implies they are global. India is a part of that globe.

        October 17, 2014 at 11:12 am |
      • Better Tomorrow

        I think you are being too emotional. Economics dictate that India is worth more as a sum of its parts than as a whole. That is what we have to do. Nothing personal just business.

        October 17, 2014 at 11:14 am |
      • Lester

        I'm not being emotional at all; India is an small portion of US's foreign spending. If you were making the case about eliminating ALL foreign support, it'd be a different conversation. But you're not; you are targeting one specific country, and to me, that shows a bias.
        It seems to be _very_ personal to you.

        October 17, 2014 at 11:19 am |
      • Better Tomorrow

        You are missing the point. Read my thesis that I presented above. That is the basis of my position. Nothing more nothing less.

        October 17, 2014 at 11:30 am |
      • Lester

        Yes, yes, the population of India. I understand that. What would be your thoughts on controlling the population explosion world-wide?

        October 17, 2014 at 11:50 am |
  11. chri§§y

    Syria may be small in size BUT...it has become the breeding ground for pure evil which has GROWN in size. Thanks in large part to this country! And the first to suffer from that evil were the poor people of Syria. Unfortunately now that evil is spilling out everywhere!

    October 17, 2014 at 10:38 am | Reply
    • Better Tomorrow

      Sorry but I have to disagree. Syria is to America what an ant is to a lion.
      Inconsequential.

      October 17, 2014 at 11:02 am | Reply
      • Lester

        India isn't a threat to the United States, and to suggest it does is merely the reflection of your own innate biases.

        October 17, 2014 at 11:11 am |
      • Better Tomorrow

        Yes it is. Most of terrorism is funded by India and due to it not following UN resolutions re: plebiscite in Indian Occupied Kashmir.

        October 17, 2014 at 11:16 am |
      • Lester

        No, it is not, but that seems to be a common theme among the commenters who target every article Fareed Zakaria writes, whether the topic is about India, or in this case, Syria. I wonder if the commonality is that FZ is of Indian descent?

        October 17, 2014 at 11:22 am |
      • Better Tomorrow

        It is not my fault Fareed is Indian. It is not my fault that Fareed has been taken to task for being a plagiarist. It is not my fault that Fareed is a stooge in the hands of CNN.

        October 17, 2014 at 11:32 am |
      • Lester

        No, of course it isn't your fault that any person is born the nationality they are. I didn't indicate it was.
        It seems that the commenters here ARE faulting FZ for being born Indian, which most assuredly is not HIS fault, either.
        I would posit that if a man named Joseph St. English wrote this blog, the tone of the comments wouldn't constantly be focused on India, regardless of what the article was actually about.

        October 17, 2014 at 11:47 am |
  12. chri§§y

    @ Better Tomorrow, did you get lost coming here? This thread is about Syria and has NOTHING to do with India! I realise you dont like India much, which is precisely WHY i avoid the threads about India! Too much hate does NOT do a body good no matter what you think.

    October 17, 2014 at 11:07 am | Reply
    • Better Tomorrow

      I am student of foreign policy not India.
      I deal in facts. Why are you so defensive? In debates you discuss issues openly without threatening anybody. Does not your culture allow this? Do you come from a fascist country? Are you from India?

      Please refrain from cyber terrorism and stick to debating issues.

      October 17, 2014 at 11:19 am | Reply
      • Lester

        Please refrain from jumping to the conclusion that every person who disagrees with you is Indian. This is where the appearance of bias comes in.
        I will expect to see some comments by you on the Pakistan extremist thread. You are a student of foreign policy, after all.

        October 17, 2014 at 11:26 am |
      • Lester

        And FWIW, the above commenter didn't threaten you in any manner at all. It is safe to assume that a person who is commenting on an American website as much as she does is likely to be American until they tell you otherwise.

        October 17, 2014 at 11:31 am |
      • Better Tomorrow

        It is obvious that we don't agree on issues. We agree to disagree. I will continue to voice my opinions. If you threaten me again I will respond to you in an appropriate manner. I encourage debates not threats.

        October 17, 2014 at 11:36 am |
      • Lester

        Elucidate how I have threatened you at all. Please do. I have responded you you respectfully.
        I shall continue to voice my opinion as well.

        October 17, 2014 at 11:41 am |
  13. chri§§y

    Good point @ Lester. Although it seems futile to point it out to this person. Hatred is a fuel to some people and he doesnt appear to be any exception to that theory! My best advice to him would be...DONT GO TO INDIA! And pray for the people of Syria because they need all the help they can get! Especially the children who have suffered the most from the greed and evilness that surrounds them.

    October 17, 2014 at 11:40 am | Reply
    • Better Tomorrow

      Thank you for bringing up the causes of children which are very dear to me heart. I am equally concerned about the following trend.

      Members of lndia’s T huggee sect strangled people or poisoned them as sacrifices to appease the b loodthirsty goddess Kali, a practice beginning in the 1500s. The number of victims has been estimated to be as high as 2 million. At a trial one T hug was accused of killing 931 people. Today, some Hindu priests still sacrifice humans and goats to Kali. Children are preferred though

      October 17, 2014 at 11:46 am | Reply
      • Lester

        Is it feasible to try and control India's religion? Is it feasible to try and control any religion?

        October 17, 2014 at 11:54 am |
  14. Better Tomorrow

    We continue to be of the opinion that India is a zero sum event in history and that a break up of sorts is the optimum way to maximize its potential for the people.
    The current events in India reinforce our belief that the inevitable implosion of India has begun and the beginning of the end state is upon us. Whether that will be nirvana that most of us believe it will, is yet to be seen. But this we will say.
    This defragmentation of India will unleash boundless opportunities and uber economic demand that will be beneficial to US and Europe and help pull them out of current recessionary malaise.
    We pray for the events to unfold peacefully and in a harmonious manner for the people of India and its neighbors.

    October 17, 2014 at 11:42 am | Reply
    • Lester

      So you wish to break up India? How would this be accomplished, and how is this any different that the United States imposing its will on how any sovereign country is allowed to run?

      October 17, 2014 at 11:57 am | Reply
      • Philip

        The USA has not been a sovereign nation for most of it's existence due to US repeatedly going bankrupt. The USA last claimed International Bankruptcy on Nov. 7, 1928 and came out from under bk protection on Nov. 7, 1998.
        Your average idiot American, like Lester here, never knew of US claiming bankruptcy protection from the IMF/World Bank! All programmed to think US is smart and rich. Which we are not. We are dumbed down and deep deep deep in debt. More debt than any nation in world history. More obesity too.

        October 17, 2014 at 12:56 pm |
      • Lester

        Are you also the commenter "Better Tomorow"? Because I was asking him a specific question and you interrupted my conversation with a topic that had not even been brought up. Do you commonly do this?

        Please refrain from person attacks. It speaks of your own inability to be civil; further, it speaks of your inability to stay on pointe. This isn't about what you think of my intelligence, or what I think of your attention deficit.

        October 17, 2014 at 1:39 pm |
      • Philip

        Lester is ignorant of US not being a sovereign nation for most of it's existence. Totally clueless about the US ever being bankrupt. Typical dumbed-down American. Ignorant of reality...only knowing what Big Media tells them to know.

        October 17, 2014 at 2:00 pm |
      • Lester

        Lester didn't mention the US being the sovereign nation at all. Philip lacks reading comprehension and is contemptuous of anyone who doesn't swallow HIS personal brand of propaganda.

        Philip uses ad hominems to try and get his point across. Philip thinks because he visits citizen-imputed content sites, that makes him better informed. Philip fancies himself quite the edgy man who is somehow blazing a trail to better world understanding, while completely ignoring that he is doing the exact sane thing he accuses big media of doing.

        Philip is in love with the sound of his own inner thoughts, no matter the impracticality of actually implementing any of his ideas.
        Philip needs to stop underestimating the intelligence of the people he is throwing out his ad hominems TO.

        Philip takes giant leaps in logic that will ultimately make him fall flat on his face when that illogic is pointed out. Then the ad homs start.

        Philip is easily dismissed as being yet another internet crank whose only desire is to start a flame war with anyone posting who don't immediately goose step to his far far far right wing ideas.

        Does Philip care to keep engaging me in this? Or will Philip grow up and find a better style of debate? I can sling it with the best of them, Philip. Don't forgot who attacked first, Sir.

        October 17, 2014 at 4:29 pm |
  15. chri§§y

    @ Better Tomorrow "it is not my fault that Fareed is Indian" seriously?? THATS your way to prove your point? Its not HIS fault that he is Indian either. None of us get to PICK our ethnicity. Some do get to choose whether they are morons though...you've proved that much today!

    October 17, 2014 at 11:46 am | Reply
    • Philip

      That's right @ the Chrissy. It's not my fault I was born in the USA. And it's not my fault that my forefathers purchased people from African tribal leaders either. AND not my fault that native American Indians rayped, robbed and enslaved fellow natives before my forefathers did. So why sue me? A US taxpayer. Why sue me for things I had nothing to do with Idiots

      October 17, 2014 at 12:32 pm | Reply
      • Blue Saffron

        Stay on track here. The subject is hatred if all things India.

        October 17, 2014 at 1:53 pm |
  16. Philip

    Not even your president Obama can end the worst drought in the history of Syria. Some 4 million Syrians have been displaced from their homes due to LACK OF WATER. Not "civil war" as TV has programmed you to believe.

    October 17, 2014 at 12:23 pm | Reply
    • Lester

      No civil war going on there? The drought contributed TO the civil war, but the war, and the resulting damage of it, is what caused the displacement.

      And before you start talking that I'm some parrot, I don't watch television. I haven't for years.

      October 17, 2014 at 1:47 pm | Reply
  17. Philip

    Are American gang bangers and fat lazy men in outlaw motorcycle gangs not like jihadists?

    October 17, 2014 at 12:35 pm | Reply
  18. Philip

    The ENRON corporation stole hundreds of billions of dollars from US citizens and used stolen funds to upgrade India's power generating infrastructure. Is how Indians were able to take your jobs.

    October 17, 2014 at 12:45 pm | Reply
  19. Blue Saffron

    Syria is a red herring of America's making.
    How can a group of people emerge financed, armed, trained and nobody anticipated or knew about it.

    October 17, 2014 at 1:15 pm | Reply
    • Blue Saffron

      In other words, if the topic isn't about India, I will dismiss it and start talking about India.

      October 17, 2014 at 1:52 pm | Reply
  20. Blue Saffron

    I have read with interest the thesis presented on CNN that "less is more" in a political context as applied to India. Although Mies Van Der Rohe adopted this in an architectural context its economic and political connotations are indeed powerful.

    Empowering subjugated minorities in India by splitting it into smaller states would trigger uber economic demand for western nations who have given so much financial and technology aid to India with no return to show for the investment.

    I concur with this approach and with economic background find the premise to be on solid footing. Central Asian States (CAS) are a case in point on this successful approach. We need to understand that India has an unmanageable large population mired in poverty and we are spinning our wheels trying to feed it. It is also too big of a geographical unit to govern.

    October 17, 2014 at 1:22 pm | Reply
  21. Blue Saffron

    Taj Mahal (purely by connotation, not size) reminds one of the saying of our dear architect friend Mies Van Der Rohe that “Less is More” and its application to India geo-politically. The recent economic bubble burst and minority backlash in India point to the necessity of imploding India in a controlled manner to make it more manageable administratively, before it ruptures chaotically. The Moghals may have left behind a legacy of regality in India but it was Mies that has given Indians a political concept that may give Indian Hindus a chance at survival albeit in a fragmented form.

    October 17, 2014 at 1:30 pm | Reply
  22. Blue Saffron

    Folks, kindly ignore the person who posted above on this thread. I am the real Blue Saffron from India.

    October 17, 2014 at 1:34 pm | Reply
    • Josh

      So say something, i diot. We don't care who you are but in your ideas. Now
      F ukk Off.

      October 17, 2014 at 1:40 pm | Reply
  23. Josh

    @Blue Saffron, Let's face it, India is a decadent culture and economy on the verge of collapse. India has become a dinosaur. A Smithsonian specimen. Like humpty dumpty even USA, NATO and the entire free world are having a tough time holding it together. Living in the shadows of Pakistan, defined by China, haunted by Kashmir and punctuated by Terror Organizations such as Shiv Sena, India is struggling to find a meaning for its existence (besides a call center) and a place in the new world order.

    October 17, 2014 at 1:38 pm | Reply
  24. Philip

    @Josh, I posted as Blue Saffron. So what?

    October 17, 2014 at 1:42 pm | Reply
  25. Philip

    Syrians fleeing DROUGHT. Not "civil war".

    http://www.ifrc.org/en/news-and-media/news-stories/middle-east-and-north-africa/syria/drought-exhausts-affected–communities-in-syria–66673/

    October 17, 2014 at 1:49 pm | Reply
    • Blue Saffron

      Hey, everyone! Philip says there's no war going on in Syria right now! He says it's peaceful but a little dry! He's the wisest person in the world! Listen to him! LISTEN TO HIM!

      Asshole

      October 17, 2014 at 1:56 pm | Reply
    • Blue Saffron

      Page or file not found

      The resource you are looking for might have been removed or had its name changed.

      Idiot.

      October 17, 2014 at 2:00 pm | Reply
  26. Philip

    Be quiet fake Philip.

    October 17, 2014 at 1:53 pm | Reply
  27. Philip

    The USA is 4% of world population yet consumes 1/3 of all world produce and causes over 30% of all world pollution.
    If everything that US citizens consumed was made in America, the pollution generated making all the stuff we consume would also be here. A dark cloud of pollution would cover the USA if everything we consumed was Made in the USA.

    October 17, 2014 at 1:55 pm | Reply
    • Blue Saffron

      Trans: BLARGH BLAH BLAH BLAH I HATE AMERICA!
      Fu kk off.

      October 17, 2014 at 2:03 pm | Reply
  28. Thomas

    America needs more cheep labor !

    Iraqi's for a better San Diego .

    October 17, 2014 at 1:58 pm | Reply
  29. Rupert

    Thomas you weren't supposed to show up.

    October 17, 2014 at 2:01 pm | Reply
  30. Philip

    I suggest rounding up members of America's 25,000 street and outlaw biker gangs and airlifting them to northern Iraq.

    October 17, 2014 at 2:04 pm | Reply
    • Lester

      And just how would you implement this suggestion, Philip?

      October 17, 2014 at 4:35 pm | Reply
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