Petraeus doubts Syria can be put back together again

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Retired Army Gen. David Petraeus expressed doubt in a recent interview with The Hill that Syria can be pieced back together after a nearly five-year civil war.  

"Can Syria actually be put back together again? It is by no means clear that it can be put together again; in fact, I tend to think not, but we shall see," he said in an interview last week. 

He made the comments as Secretary of State John KerryJohn Kerry5 reasons Trump's final debate performance sealed his 2016 coffin US pledges to do all it can to fight 'grave threat' of nuclear North Korea Armani, Batali among guests at White House state dinner MORE tries to save a struggling peace process between the Shiite-backed Syrian government and Sunni opposition rebels. The conflict helped fuel the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Kerry is pushing for a cease-fire in Syria in order to get the process back on track when talks resume on Feb. 25. 

But Russia has in recent weeks stepped up air attacks on the rebel groups, shoring up Syrian President Bashar Assad's government and making it less likely to participate in a process that calls for him to step down.

Retired Amb. Ryan Crocker, whom President Obama picked as ambassador to Afghanistan in 2011, predicted in December that the negotiations will be futile as long as Assad believes he will prevail. 

"I have the highest regard for Secretary Kerry, but this effort at a political negotiation is going to go nowhere because the Russians, the Iranians and Bashar al-Assad think they're on a roll — why should they negotiate?" Crocker said.

The administration said that without a political solution, it will have to consider a plan B involving military options, though officials have not said what they will be.  

Petraeus also cautioned the U.S. not to push out Assad until it knows what would come next. 

"I think Assad has to go at some point. He is the magnetic attraction for would-be Sunni jihadists from around the world. But I wouldn't push him until I had a sense of what would follow him," he said.  

Petraeus said he still advocates the military options he presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee during a hearing in September. 

He said the U.S. should call on Assad to stop bombing the opposition or else impose a no-fly zone. He also supported the establishment of enclaves in Syria protected by coalition airpower, where a moderate Sunni force could be supported. 

A political solution in Syria would require the development of a capable, moderate Sunni Arab ground forces, but that would not happen unless the U.S. was willing to back them against Assad's forces, he said.  

"It is frequently said that there is 'no military solution' to Syria or the other conflicts roiling the Middle East. This may be true, but it is also misleading," he said during his testimony. 

"For, in every case, if there is to be any hope of a political settlement, a certain military and security context is required—and that context will not materialize on its own. We and our partners need to facilitate it—and over the past four years, we have not done so."