The one thing I would most like to see in the realm of American foreign policy in 2016 is a brokered settlement to end the Syrian Civil War. Such a settlement would by no means end the violence in the Middle East as a whole, but, if successful, it would stop the killing of hundreds of thousands of people, the displacement of millions, and the destruction of a country that is home to one of the oldest civilizations on earth.
Moreover, without at least a lasting ceasefire in Syria, however tenuous, it will also be impossible to contain ISIS successfully, much less defeat it, or to address the conflicts in Iraq and Yemen.
The stars are better aligned for such a settlement this year than at any time since the Syrian war began. The U.S. must find a way to counter ISIS; Europe must find a way to stop the flow of refugees; Russia must find a way to avoid becoming more deeply embroiled in another Chechnya, if not Afghanistan; Turkey wants to avoid strengthening the Syrian Kurds any further; and, even with the current rift, Saudi Arabia and Iran have more direct ways to pursue their rivalry than continuing to pour money into their proxies in Syria. The various Syrian opposition groups will not agree to an actual government in Syria, but they might be brought not to oppose a plan that holds out the prospect of a highly federated Syria in which they would be free of Assad even if Assad or his people still ruled in some places.
If war is politics by other means, so, too, is politics often war by other means. Partial victory at the ballot box may start to look better than stalemate or defeat on the battlefield. Back at home in the U.S., the Obama Administration is also well placed to take political risks to get a settlement. It has many foreign policy achievements of which to be proud– most notably opening the door to full diplomatic relations with Myanmar, Cuba, and Iran. But without a Syrian peace, its legacy will also be continuing war, spreading like a cancer across the entire Middle East.