Middle East Notes and Comment: The Ukraine War Isn't a Sprint

The Ukraine War Isn't a Sprint

The U.S. military likes to win its wars with a sprint. When it launched Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, the air assault began on March 19, and President George W. Bush declared "mission accomplished" on May 1. Operation Desert Storm in 1991 lasted a similar span, from January 17 to February 28. The military's view is that the major problems came not from sprints but from marathons: a 20-year presence in Afghanistan that ended in disarray, and a pattern of being in and then out of Iraq that stretched on for more than a decade and gave rise to the Islamic State group.

By contrast, the Russian military seems full of marathoners. The Syrian war has lasted seven years, and it follows a decade-long Russian effort to subdue Chechnya. Russian military tactics are profoundly different than U.S. tactics, and the goals are different, too. Those who hope for a quick end to the war in Ukraine should be sobered by the Russians' deliberate and destructive efforts in Syria. 

Read Jon Alterman's commentary on the CSIS website.

From the Middle East Program

Babel Mini-Series

We released three new episodes of our 7-part mini-series, Babel: U.S. Power and Influence in the Middle East, looking at two decades of heightened U.S. engagement in the region. Jon sat down with some of the preeminent experts and former policymakers who helped shape U.S. foreign policy in the region to take a closer look at the United States' experience in the Middle East.

In part four, Jon analyzes U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East, and how U.S. policymakers have thought about U.S. diplomatic power in the region—with Ambassador Thomas Pickering, Nathalie Tocci, and Brian Katulis. 

In part five, Jon looks at U.S. soft power in the Middle East, and just what makes American culture, ideals, and institutions enduringly attractive in the region, and around the world—with Lisa Anderson, Paul Salem, and Alanoud Alsharekh. 

In part six, Jon explores how people and governments in the Middle East see the United States, what they want from the United States in the region, and how that's changing—with Nabil Fahmy, Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, Maha Yahya, Alon Pinkas, and Nasser Hadian.

We will conclude the series with release of the final episode next Tuesday, April 19, 2022.


Natasha Hall published a commentary exploring two scenarios for what U.S. policy in Syria might look like in 2030. You can read her article in the full volume, published by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, by clicking here.

Last month, in a commentary for the Washington Post, Will and Natasha argued that as Russia's war in Ukraine becomes increasingly costly for the Kremlin, Russia's playbook in Syria provides a template for a cheap and brutal war.

As part of CSIS's Crisis Crossroads series, Jon explored how Middle Eastern states were hedging in the aftermath of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Jon also recorded a short video discussing what the crisis in Ukraine could mean for geopolitics in the Middle East, energy markets, and the possible Iranian nuclear deal.

In the News

Natasha Hall's report, "Rescuing Aid in Syria," was covered by Asharq Al-Awsat. (04/05/22)

Will spoke with Haaretz about how rising wheat prices will affect the Middle East. (03/01/22)