Behind enemy lines: Kurdish fighters in Raqqa, Syria, July 2017

The Syrian civil war has entered a new phase. President Bashar al-Assad’s government has consolidated its grip on the western half of the country, and in the east, U.S.-backed forces are advancing on the remnants of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS). So far, these two campaigns have remained largely separate. But that is changing: Assad, with Iranian and Russian help, is starting to project more power into eastern Syria. As ISIS’ remaining territory shrinks, Syrian and U.S.-backed forces are converging on the same cities. Before long, Washington will have to decide whether, when, and how to withdraw. 

The United States has no good options in Syria, but some are worse than others. By now, hopes of getting rid of Assad or securing a reformed government are far-fetched fantasies, and so support for antigovernment factions should be off the table. The Syrian government is

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  • ROBERT S. FORD is a Senior Fellow at the Middle East Institute and Kissinger Senior Fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. From 2011 to 2014, he served as U.S. Ambassador to Syria.
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