Kurdish fighters from the People’s Protection Units near the entrance to the town of Kobani, Syria, Nov. 19, 2014 (AP photo by Jake Simkin).

For the past century, the United States has had a complex, shifting relationship with dictators. On one hand, America’s liberal instincts convinced the public and its elected representatives that democracy was the only stable form of government over the long run. But after the U.S. became a global superpower following World War II, this was counterbalanced by a conservative quest for order, stability and a carefully modulated pace of change. These two sides of the American strategic psyche were often in conflict when it came to dealing with dictators around the world. As decolonization blended with rising Soviet power during […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the Gas Exporting Countries Forum, Tehran, Iran, Nov. 23, 2015 (AP photo by Ebrahim Noroozi).

For years, many Western and even Russian analysts expected that a resolution of Iran’s nuclear dispute with the West would weaken ties between Tehran and Moscow. However, in the months since July’s nuclear deal, relations between Iran and Russia have strengthened, while Tehran’s ties with the West have stagnated. The Syrian war, as well as skillful Russian diplomacy, have short-circuited, at least for now, any anticipated Iranian geopolitical reversal after the nuclear deal. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Iran in late November, the first visit by a Russian president since 2007, was the latest indication of healthy ties. Although […]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other U.S. officials meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Moscow, Dec. 15, 2015 (AP photo by Mandel Ngan).

International conflict management is not necessarily a rewarding occupation for people who have neat and orderly minds. Well-made plans tend to fall apart in fast-moving crises. As I noted in a chapter in a book on the Security Council published earlier this year, the recent history of United Nations peace operations is basically a story of “one damn thing after another.” U.N. forces have repeatedly been caught off-guard by upsurges in violence and entangled in intractable struggles that they can help mitigate but cannot resolve. This is not only true for the blue helmets. In the United States, analysts once […]

Tribal fighters prepare to take their positions during fighting with the Houthis, Taiz, Yemen, Nov. 16, 2015 (AP photo by Abdulnasser Alseddik).

Five days of peace talks in Switzerland between Yemen’s warring parties wrapped up Sunday with no breakthroughs, making it increasingly clear that the Arab world’s poorest country is teetering on the brink of semi-permanent chaos. With the deeply polarizing civil war rumbling on, the local branches of both al-Qaida and the self-proclaimed Islamic State are gaining territory and influence. The war has seen the country fragment, with divisive sectarian rhetoric, hitherto minimal in Yemen, playing an increasingly prominent role. As the Houthis—Zaydi Shiites from the northwest—have advanced in the south and east of the country, areas where the population is […]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani during a ceremony, Doha, Qatar, Dec. 2, 2015 (AP/Presidential Press Service photo by Yasin Bulbul).

Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s trip to Qatar two weeks ago was his second to the tiny oil- and gas-rich Arab state since he was elected Turkey’s president last year. The visit was significant because it inaugurated the first High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council meeting between the two countries, a mechanism created last year to deepen bilateral cooperation in strategic sectors. During Erdogan’s visit, 16 separate agreements were signed for everything from education and maritime affairs to travel and energy. Some of the agreements—such as cooperation on archives, credential recognition in the maritime industry and public finance management—were technical in nature. Others, such […]

U.S. President Barack Obama at a news conference at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Paris, Dec. 1, 2015 (AP photo by Michel Euler).

Critics no longer stop at questioning or attacking the Obama administration’s strategy in dealing with the so-called Islamic State. As Sen. Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, bluntly claimed last month, “We don’t have a strategy.” Even Democratic lawmakers like Sen. Tim Kane have joined in, saying, “I don’t think the administration has done a good job of laying out a clear strategy.” Yet President Barack Obama insists that his administration has an effective strategy based on four components: airstrikes against Islamic State targets; support to Iraqi security forces and Iraqi militias fighting the […]

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Over the course of its armed struggle with the self-proclaimed Islamic State, Iraq has devolved into a state captured by militias and foreign powers. The instability caused by a revived insurgency that took over Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul in June 2014 has facilitated the emergence of new armed actors and deepened the influence of older ones. The level of security engagement Baghdad receives from the West, including cooperation with the 60-nation coalition against the Islamic State, has not strengthened Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s position. His government remains fragile and fragmented, unable to consolidate power and exercise authority over militias […]

An Israeli soldier walks next to an Iron Dome rocket defense battery near Sderot, Israel, Sept. 20, 2015 (AP photo by Tsafrir Abayov).

In October, it was revealed that Bahrain and perhaps other oil-rich Arab states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) were in talks with Israel over the purchase of its highly successful and relatively inexpensive Iron Dome air defense system. The news came in the wake of both the Iran nuclear deal and reports that Iran may have tested a more advanced, medium-range ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead, violating U.N. Security Council Resolution 1929. While there are obvious correlations to be drawn with developments in Iran, the Iron Dome purchase is much more a reflection of shifting regional […]