Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

PeaceGame Exercise Looks at Best Outcome for Syria

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

PeaceGame Exercise Looks at Best Outcome for Syria

Article excerpt

In order to examine what "the best possible peace for Syria" might look like, the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) and the Foreign Policy (FP) Group organized their first PeaceGame simulation-the softer version of a wargame-on Dec. 9 at USIP's Washington, DC headquarters. As FP CEO David Rothkopf explained, the exercise brought together 43 foreign policy specialists who played the roles of international and Syrian stakeholders in the ongoing conflict.

USIP experts Steven Heydemann and George Lopez assumed the roles of the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian Military Council; Middle East Institute's Randa Slim played Hezbollah; Iran was played by Daniel Brumberg of USIP and the Brookings Institution's Kenneth Pollack (whose books include 2002's The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq); and the Assad regime was played by National Defense University professor Murhaf Jouejati and former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Theodore Kattouf.

The exercise began with establishing a baseline: "Syria is not Iraq" repeated many participants, including Manal Omar, who role-played for Syria civil society. But Syria and Iraq do share challenges in disarmament, specialists argued. Even if PeaceGame participants agreed that empowering local governance councils was important, they disagreed on the sequencing of how and when to disarm. Stepping out of his FSA role-play, Heydemann stated that "'Best Possible Peace' depends on where emphasis is given. Finding a balance between those two things [best and possible] is critical" in protecting vulnerable populations while empowering local governance councils.

Pushback emerged, not just during the role-players' simulation, but from those following the PeaceGame online and through the social media meme "#PeaceGame." Online feedback showed a big divide between people who believed that a Syria settlement must come from those outside the country versus those who were against outside participation of any sort.

What would a lasting peace in Syria look like? None of the experts saw large-scale international intervention as a possibility. Halfway through the simulation, the players leaned toward a back-channel inroad through the "Royal Flush," where Russia, Iran and a critical mass of Alawite supporters backed Bashar al-Assad's removal-but could still move forward with two out of three. Representing the "Jihadist," the Stimson Center's Mona Yacoubian pointed to war profiteering and deeply vested economic interests for the jihadists.

Even after reaching a political settlement, the simulation walked through the factors that could reignite conflict. …

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