Although the Islamic State (IS) is near defeat, Syria now risks a confrontation among the major regional and world powers. This turn of events can only be characterized as a failure of imagination and leadership, requiring an urgent rethink of the endgame in Syria. Washington and Moscow can either ramp up for a new and uncertain round of violence or begin a UN Security Council-mandated regional peace process to facilitate long overdue post-conflict stability and reconstruction in Syria and Lebanon, in concert with addressing the Israeli-Palestinian question.
A turnaround in Syria requires a change of mindset. The final chapters of the battle against IS should have been a transition of opportunity rather than crisis. But the situation today is nonetheless in crisis. The "proxy war" approach has turned into something more ominous. US, Russian, Turkish, Iranian and Israeli forces are now all active parties to the conflict. The Syrian actors, and their regional backers, have the potential to become the tail wagging the dog, unless the United States and Russia can turn things around.