This essay argues the wars in Iraq and Syria are not over. Iran has used the war against the Islamic State, and, more generally, the instability in Iraq and Syria, to successfully spread and legitimize its influence. If the U.S. intends to challenge Iran’s influence in Syria and Iraq, it needs to demonstrate its long-term commitment to its local partners, and it needs to work with its partners to secure and stabilize eastern Syria and western Iraq. Countering Iran’s influence in Iraq and Syria is a long-term project, and creating viable alternatives to Iranian influence in Damascus and Baghdad is the best way to prevent them from becoming long-term Iranian dependencies.
This article is part of a special project conducted by the Foreign Policy Research Institute, titled: “After the Caliphate: Reassessing the Jihadi Threat and Stabilizing the Fertile Crescent,” which includes a book, a thematic issue of Orbis: FPRI’s Journal of World Affairs(Summer 2018), and a series of podcasts. Each element of the project can be found here: https://www.fpri.org/research/after-the-caliphate-project/.