Beyond Boots on the Ground: The ‘By, With & Through’ Approach in US Foreign Policy Toward the Syrian War (2011-2019)

Ayton, Matthew (2022) Beyond Boots on the Ground: The ‘By, With & Through’ Approach in US Foreign Policy Toward the Syrian War (2011-2019). Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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This thesis examines the United States’ employment of the ‘by, with and through’ approach toward the Syrian war between the period of 2011-2019. The ‘by, with and through’ approach was an indirect mode of intervention that came to the ideational forefront of US foreign policy following the disastrous interventions into Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003) under the George W. Bush Administration. The approach, employed by President Barack Obama and carried over into the Donald Trump years, saw Washington attempt to achieve its strategic goals vicariously through supporting an assortment of Syrian non-state actors, obviating the need for American ‘boots on the ground’. As the analysis in this thesis shows, the results of this ‘cost-saving’ approach to intervention were at best mixed.

Literature that provides a detailed empirical exploration of US policy toward the Syrian war is sparse. While some scholars have sought to emphasise the US’ fight against terrorist groups in Syria, none have so far provided a detailed empirical history of its overall indirect intervention. Moreover, this thesis analyses US policy from a particular angle - the ‘by, with and through’ approach - which also makes it an original contribution. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the thesis draws heavily from first-hand interviews with senior American officials involved in the ‘Syria file’ and the Syrian opposition politicians and generals who worked with them. No work published on US policy toward Syria has so far brought this diverse cohort of voices together in one volume to tell the story.

Providing an analysis of the undergirding policy rationale for the US’ employment of the ‘by, with and through’ approach in Syria, the thesis additionally gives a detailed critique of the flaws in the effort. The thesis shows how erroneous assumptions within the Obama administration about the nature and capabilities of the surrogate groups it chose to support ultimately undermined America’s hand. However, local political struggles and battlefield dynamics outside of Washington’s control gradually crippled America’s ability to achieve its goals in the long term by operating ‘by, with and through’ Syrian non-state actors. The thesis therefore provides a ‘cautionary tale’ for any future utilisation of this indirect approach to intervention and war-fighting.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Politics, Philosophy, Language and Communication Studies
Depositing User: Chris White
Date Deposited: 19 Oct 2023 08:22
Last Modified: 19 Oct 2023 08:25

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