Right now, the regime has the upper hand, controlling most of the country. Assad thinks he's won. So, to him, there's really no need to negotiate... The U.S. and its international allies were in it to kill ISIS, not to bring down Assad. The U.S. could have intervened more forcefully from the beginning. However, the Obama administration was concerned about 'winning' and then owning a shattered country: Iraq 2.0... Various opposition factions, some of which enjoy Turkey's support, remain active in north and northeastern Syria. Part of the area is controlled by Kurdish-dominated forces, which work with the United States, fear Turkey, and have an uneasy modus vivendi with the Syrian regime. [For the Gulf states,] it was mostly about containing Iran, though many resented Assad for other reasons and saw most of the opposition as deserving of support. [The war] quickly became a sectarian conflict, and this colored the lens for Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states... The [humanitarian] situation is beyond horrible... As long as the various players can get resources, the fighting will be hard to stop.
We don’t know how bad it’s going to be, but the chances for violence are greater than in any recent previous election... [President Trump's comments to the Proud Boys, telling them to "stand back and stand by" is] a message that many counterterrorism analysts perceived as a dog whistle, or maybe just a regular whistle, to the far-right.
Russia wants chaos and violence serves that, violence divides, violence reduces trust in institutions....[In terms of Russia's support for white nationalists,] what happens if we find that there is an individual who was triggered by something Russia-linked? What does that mean? Does it simply get lost in the noise? Or is it that Russia becomes responsible for the deaths of several Americans? I think that Russia is playing with fire, and under Trump that hasn't been a big deal, because he has downplayed it. But under a traditional Republican or someone like Joe Biden it'd be a much bigger deal.
U.S. options are limited. Iran has done such harassment in the past, and the U.S. Navy has a set of procedures to handle it — so making a big issue of it may be a surprise to Tehran.... The United States could sink some ships or take a similar military response, but this would achieve little.
[The US reward for information on Hamza bin Laden] is a bounty for a prominent figure but it’s not a huge bounty compared to his father or previous top-level figures. The thing about him is that there isn’t much to know. He’s very young, he spent a lot of time in hiding in Iran… and he doesn’t have major operational credibility that other figures have. Right now he’s at best a figurehead...while seasoned leaders are trying to recapture their brand, which was much stronger under his father. With that in mind using the Bin Laden name is sensible, the question is can he build on this and go from the son of an important person to an important person in his own right.
If [foreign fighters] aren’t brought home, what happens to them very much depends on who captured them and what their policies are. I understand people are tempted to say these people did something brutal and horrible and they should not be allowed to return, but that is what our justice system is for. There's a real question of whether they'll face justice with a real rule of law. Some might be able to bribe their way out, others may try to find places to flee if they aren't allowed to go back to their home country and spend years in prison. A group of hundreds of people unable to go home hiding out who knows where with links to the Islamic State - that's a very scary possibility... It would leave us with the same question. Say they were tried by an international tribunal and found guilty, where would they be imprisoned? It won’t be an option... [while] Guantanamo is a logical possibility ... I just don't think it's one politically that Trump would want to do.
[The pan-Arab nationalists] see themselves often as critical of religion because religion is ‘backward.’ It’s what’s been holding the Arab world back. That’s kind of the dominant divide, and Islamists of all stripes are pushing back against this... The Saudis really put a lot of money into the ‘Dawah’ machine to try to out-compete Iran around the world. There’s a real panic and concern then.
If you had told officials after 9/11 that in the next 17 years there would be only 104 deaths from terrorist attacks in the United States, they would have raised a glass of Champagne. Back then, we were worried that we’d lose that many people in a week. We could have mass attacks again, we could go 10 years without anything.
The number of counterterrorism investigations has increased over the past decade, in part because technology provides law enforcement with leads, said Daniel Byman, a senior fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. Social media enables the FBI to locate suspects. Court records show that many ISIS probes begin with a review of Facebook profiles and Twitter feeds.
It takes time and resources for the FBI to weed through ominous internet posts and determine whether an individual is bloviating for shock value or if they're making true threats that need to be chased down, said Byman.
"You have a lot of people bragging on social media and that comes to the attention of authorities," said Byman.