Visits to POMEPS and Harvard

Last week I had a very interesting and productive visit the US’ east coast, speaking about the Battle for Syria at American University, GW University, Georgetown, Harvard and Tufts.

At POMEPS at GW, I recorded a podcast with Prof. Marc Lynch discussing the book:

“I think the most important change [in Syria] was a stepping back by the United States,” said Phillips. “You get a desire by all passing opportunities being seen by other emerging regional powers: notably, Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia in opposition to the rise of Iran. They all want to take advantage, or to push their own agendas more. as the U.S. seems to step back. Because they have a particular interest in Syria, Syria ends up pretty early on a battle ground for these regional rivalries. One thing that really struck me doing this research was going right back to the summer of 2011, after the Arab Spring begins to settle down a little bit— and Syria continues to escalate into conflict. Most of these regional actors are looking at Syria, not with alarm, but as an opportunity. And I would argue that they are on their own way pouring fuel onto the fire of the conflict, rather than to sort of try to deescalate. I think that’s a major reason why you see a rush to arms answer.”

“I don’t think you’ll see much change from the Saudis, rather than just trying to back the non-jihadist groups in a non-Muslim Brotherhood groups,” said Phillips. “Turkey, on the other hand, you do see a full 180— and it’s been quite recent. It’s almost too late and sort of getting a little bit negligent on the threat posed by jihadists, even after ISIS capture Mosul. Turkey is very reluctant to join the United States coalition against ISIS— and only after it starts getting targeted at home by ISIS attacks does it begin to switch and turn on ISIS.”

At Harvard, the Crimson newspaper covered my talk:

Analyzing the international dynamics of the long-running conflict, University of London lecturer Christopher Phillips discussed his latest book on the Syrian Civil War at the Harvard Kennedy School on Monday.

Moderated by Kennedy School Professor Stephen M. Walt, the seminar provided contrasting perspectives on the external factors that influenced the middle-eastern region. Phillips, a guest lecturer, emphasized the tendency for the conflict’s different participants to escalate tensions rather than pursue peace, a subject his new book, “The Battle for Syria: International Rivalry in the New Middle East,” focuses on.

Citing the different interests of Russia, Turkey, and other parties within Syria, he said the conditions surrounding the conflict emerged due to a power vacuum caused by a “Post-American Middle East.”

In particular, he argued that the accepted American policy of minimizing “boots on the ground” in the aftermath of Iran, combined with assertive regional powers and misinterpretation, created conditions that promoted conflict over de-escalation within Syria.

During the talk, Phillips focused on former President Obama’s decision to call for Bashar al-Assad to stand aside in August 2011, a move he called an “uninformed political decision,” and attempted to explain its implications.

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