Donald Trump wants to smash ISIS. We concur. But he can do so by giving a large number of Syrians what they've always wanted: American protection.”>

The war in Syria is more straightforward today than it was two years ago. That may sound counterintuitive, but Syria, properly speaking, exists now merely in name.

A near-genocidal policy undertaken by the President Bashar Assad in Damascus has been followed by contradictory foreign interventions by Russia, Iran, Turkey and the United States, each of which has established its own zone of influence in the war-ravaged country. The resulting balkanization, a cauldron of endless conflict, has led to the worst humanitarian catastrophe of the 21 st century; the deaths of 500,000, the wounding of more than 1,000, 000, and the external or internal displacement of 11, 000,000roughly half the Syrian population.

There exists, however, a narrow window of opportunity for an incoming U.S. administration to achieve minimally defined objectives: defeating the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, guaranteeing that it cannot come back, and making sure that its main rival, al Qaeda, cannot exploit the power vacuum that will come with the collapse of the caliphate.

Based on months of interviews with Syrian opponent figures, ISIS defectors, Sunni Arab tribesmen, U.S. military sources, and intelligence officials, we believe it necessary, as part of these action plans, to keep small but effective U.S. garrisons indefinitely in eastern and northeastern Syria and western Iraq.

This is not as radical as it might seem. According to our U.S. military and intelligence sources, four installings already are being used by the anti-ISIS coalition, either openly or semi-covertly.

Developing these sites as solid anchors in the region will give the U.S. a poorly needed intelligence-gathering ability in the Jazira, or Upper Mesopotamia, encompassing the arid plain that stretchings across northwestern Iraq , northeastern Syria and southeastern Turkey.

In this century, the Jazira has been an incubator and a hideout for the transnational menace that, under a succession of names, including al Qaeda in Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham( ISIS ), and the Islamic State full stop, has bedeviled U.S. national security for over a decade.

The Jazira battlefield is complex, but not incomprehensible. Again, the core American objective is to crush ISIS, then to protect the local forces-out who carried out this campaign with U.S. backing, dedicating them enough security to allow them to rebuild their lives in their part of the Jazira.

The Assad regime has vowed to reconquer all of Syria, but once it feels secure in its own enclave, it is unlikely to expend the resources needed to do that, and its Russian and Iranian friends will have no particular interest in pursuing such a campaign.

Keeping contingents of U.S. forces in the region, meanwhile, will provide a believable discouraging helping to defend trusted and capable anti-ISIS fighters and deterring the Assad regime from any effort at reconquest.

Capitulating in the face of an Assad offensive to retake provinces that he did nothing to help liberate from ISIS would, we believe, catalyze more terrorism and squander the hard-won gains of the last two and half years.

***

What we are proposing does not in any way resemble an Iraq-style occupation; nor would it require a massive new commitment of American hard power.

It certainly would not approach the notion of nation-building long reviled by Donald Trump. Rather, it would expand upon battlefield victories already racked up in Operation Inherent Resolve, as the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS is formally known, and solidify them so that what happened in Iraq following the categorical U.S. military withdrawal in 2011 cannot be replicated in two nation-states.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom, such a counterterrorism-plus strategy would actually be well timed, owing to Syrias fractured battlefield scenery. Broadly speaking, Syria can now be is split into distinct quadrants.

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