October 16, 2014

CNAS Releases New Report “The Tourniquet: A Strategy For Defeating the Islamic State and Saving Syria and Iraq”

By Marc Lynch

Center for a New American Security (CNAS) Adjunct Senior Fellow Dr. Marc Lynch has written a new report, “The Tourniquet: A Strategy for Defeating the Islamic State and Saving Syria and Iraq.” The report makes a series of recommendations for stabilizing the fractious region.

The full report is available here: http://www.cnas.org/saving-syria-and-iraq.

Please find a summary of the report by the author below: 

The Obama administration has laid out an ambitious strategy for defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Iraq and degrading it in Syria. It has assembled a broad coalition in support of airstrikes, training and advising missions, and the curtailing of the flows of fighters and support to jihadist groups in both Syria and Iraq. These efforts have helped stabilize the situation and galvanize political change in Iraq, but have struggled to gain traction in Syria. As these initial efforts prove unable to deliver decisive progress against ISIS, the pressure is already growing to expand the military campaign and its mission. The limited utility of airstrikes is compounded by sharp disagreements among coalition members about the primary objectives of the campaign.

The Obama administration must clearly articulate a strategic vision for translating its military and political efforts into a sustainable endgame, and seize the fading opportunity to craft an effective regional accord to meet the challenge posed by ISIS. This report lays out a strategy for establishing a sustainable regional accord focused upon defeating ISIS, rebuilding Iraq's political order, and de-escalating Syria's brutal civil war.  It warns that proposals to build U.S. strategy around regional confrontation with Iran or a new Global War on Terror, or to immediately expand the campaign to target the Assad regime, would likely quickly demand a dramatic increase in the U.S. military commitments without securing core U.S. interests. The "tourniquet" strategy would cut off the regional support which sustains these conflicts while building up genuine alternatives.

The report lays out a strategy for internationally legitimate and regionally coordinated large-scale but conditional assistance to Iraq and to Syrians. For Syria, it argues for a "strategic pause" to allow the building of viable alternative governance in rebel-controlled parts of Syria, while rejecting the idea of partnering with the Assad regime against ISIS as both unrealistic and undesirable and acknowledging the constraints imposed by the absence of a viable Syrian opposition with which to work.  For Iraq, it argues for close support conditioned upon a commitment by Iraqi leaders to implement long-needed political reforms and by Kurdish leaders to remain within the Iraqi state. Regionally, it shows the importance of pulling back from debilitating proxy wars and warns against subordinating human rights and political reforms to the exigencies of a new war on terror. 

Dr. Lynch is available for interviews on this report. To arrange an interview, please contact Neal Urwitz at nurwitz@cnas.org or call 202-457-9409. 


  • Marc Lynch