French forces patrol in the desert of northern Mali along the border with Niger on the outskirts of Asongo, Mali, June 24, 2015 (AP photo/Maeva Bambuck).

With increasing violence and insecurity in all parts of the country, a government that has elevated political disillusionment to an art form and an international community unable to effect change on the ground, Mali is quickly becoming West Africa’s basket case. Despite continued international military commitments and a recent peace treaty between the government and northern rebels, the situation looks bleak. Mali is currently facing two distinct but connected types of violence: a political conflict over the status of the northern part of the country that is taking on intra-communal dimensions; and a rising tide of jihadi terrorism, committed by […]

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir signs a peace deal, Juba, South Sudan, Aug. 26, 2015 (AP photo by Jason Patinkin).

How much clout does the U.S. wield over African leaders? Over the past month, the Obama administration has turned up the heat on South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, pressuring him to commit to a deal to end his country’s 20-month-old civil war. Kiir did all he could to avoid signing the agreement, which involves a power-sharing arrangement with rebel leader and former Vice President Riek Machar. He backed out of a ceremony to sign it in the middle of last month and only gave in last week after the U.S. threatened him with United Nations sanctions. Last week, the Security […]

This file photo, released on May 17, 2015 by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows the general view of the ancient Roman city of Palmyra, Syria (SANA via AP).

On Sunday the self-proclaimed Islamic State reportedly detonated a huge explosive at the 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, though the extent of the damage has yet to be confirmed. The partial destruction of the massive, Roman-era complex, which UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency, has called one of the most important religious buildings of the first century A.D., follows a series of dark weeks for a historical site known affectionately to Syrians as the Bride of the Desert. Just last week, Islamic State militants blew up the smaller Temple of Baalshamin, releasing propaganda images […]

In a photo released on May 4, 2015 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, Islamic State militants pass by a convoy, Tel Abyad, northeast Syria (Militant website via AP).

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part column on the Islamic State’s use of extreme brutality as part of its strategy. Part I looks at the roots and intended effects of that brutality. Part II will examine whether extreme brutality is sustainable or will be the group’s downfall, and what that means for the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State. Brutality is a defining characteristic of the so-called Islamic State. While history is littered with violent organizations, few have made it so integral to their strategy and identity. The Islamic State has become “synonymous with viciousness,” as Fawaz […]

Pakistani protesters burn an Indian flag to condemn Indian shelling of Pakistani villages, Peshawar, Pakistan, Aug. 28, 2015 (AP photo by Mohammad Sajjad).

Gunfire broke out on Friday near the disputed Kashmir border between India and Pakistan, leaving nine dead and 62 wounded. Both sides claim that the other started the unprovoked firing and shelling. The attack comes days after four Kashmiri rebels and one Indian army trooper were killed near the border in India-administered Kashmir. Pakistan also accused India of injuring a civilian Sunday after firing on aPakistan Rangers’ station. These are just the most recent incidents along the so-called Line of Control, the de facto border between India and Pakistan, in Kashmir, which has seen a significant uptick in violence in […]

Fighters from the Islamic State parade in a commandeered Iraqi security forces armored vehicle down a main road at the northern city of Mosul, Iraq, June 23, 2014 (AP photo).

Earlier this month, during a campaign stop in Ottawa ahead of October’s federal elections, incumbent Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper proposed new legislation to prohibit travel to terrorism hot spots like Iraq and Syria. “A re-elected Conservative government will designate travel to places that are ground zero for terrorist activity a criminal offense,” Harper said. This is not a new idea. Australia has already enacted a similar measure this year, listing parts of Iraq and Syria as no-travel zones. Individuals caught violating the law face 10 years in prison. Exemptions exist for journalists, representatives of national governments and the United […]

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks at the Reagan Presidential Library, Simi Valley, Calif., Aug. 11, 2015 (AP photo by Kevork Djansezian).

Earlier this month, Jeb Bush gave a major foreign policy speech focusing on U.S strategy in the Middle East. It offered a compelling lesson in the pitfalls of a politician named Bush talking about Iraq. In the speech, Bush blamed the current instability in Iraq on the Obama administration and in particular former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He suggested the White House had squandered the hard-earned gains from the 2007 surge in Iraq, which he argued could be successfully replicated in Syria. Beyond a rather blatant effort to rewrite history, Bush’s speech was a stark reminder that many of […]

Egyptian protesters call for the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, July 3, 2013 (AFP photo by Gianluigi Guercia).

Once set aside as artifacts of history, scholars and policymakers have vigorously returned their attention to coups d’état. This shift is clearly warranted, as recent coups in places like Honduras, Egypt and Thailand have broad ramifications for trade relationships, security and the growth of democracy. Unfortunately, we are largely playing catch-up in a fast-paced game. We know a fair amount about what causes coups—weak economies, illegitimate governance, past histories of coups, domestic protests—but far less about what transpires after a coup comes about. Following the end of the Cold War, the conventional wisdom that coups are bad for democracy ushered […]

U.N. Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria Staffan de Mistura listens during a United Nations Security Council meeting on Syria, New York, July 29, 2015 (AP photo by Bebeto Matthews).

Peacemaking is a repetitive business. Mediators and diplomats handling protracted conflicts rarely come up with entirely new ways to end them. They frequently revise and repackage previous peace plans, hoping that they will gain more traction than they have in the past. The U.N. Security Council did just that last week, recycling old proposals to end the Syrian war and selling the initiative as a minor breakthrough. Last Monday, the Security Council’s members agreed on a statement calling for a “Syrian-led political process leading to a political transition,” potentially involving “the establishment of an inclusive transitional governing body with full […]

Outgoing Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno speaks during his final news briefing, Aug. 12, 2015, at the Pentagon (AP photo/Evan Vucci).

Of all the U.S. military services, the Army has the most expansive mission. Because the Air Force and Navy are built around platforms—aircraft, ships, submarines—their functions are determined, in part, by what those things can and can’t do. The foundation of the Marine Corps is the infantryman, but that service’s small size forces it to focus on a relatively limited mission set. Expeditionary operations are the centerpiece, shaping the Marines’ force development, acquisitions, doctrine, training and leadership. Ultimately the Air Force, Navy and Marines can do many things, but their “core competence” is clear. They know what to focus on. […]

Republic of Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso addresses the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly, U.N. headquarters, New York, Sept. 26, 2014 (AP photo by Richard Drew).

On Tuesday, Denis Sassou-Nguesso, president of the Republic of Congo, removed two ministers who had recently opposed constitutional amendments he proposed to facilitate his candidacy for a third presidential term in 2016. Sassou, as he is referred to in Congo, is among Africa’s longest-serving dictators and has held power almost continuously since his military appointment in 1979. After losing power in the country’s first multiparty elections in 1992, he emerged victorious in 1997—backed by Angolan troops—following a bloody civil war. He has retained power since. His push, then, to amend the constitution to extend his rule came as no surprise. […]

Fighters against Shiite Houthi rebels stand on their armored vehicles on a road leading to Al-Anad base near Aden in the southern province of Lahej, Yemen, Aug. 3, 2015 (AP photo by Wael Qubady).

Soon after the initial shock of Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen against Houthi rebels and military units loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh had subsided, an important question arose. Would Riyadh, reorienting itself as an aggressive regional military force to be reckoned with—and no longer willing to ride on the coattails of the United States—put boots on the ground in Yemen? The new Saudi monarch, King Salman, and his son Mohammed bin Salman, the young defense minister and deputy crown prince, signaled their willingness to send troops into Yemen—just not their own. But they had trouble enlisting help […]

President Barack Obama speaks about the nuclear deal with Iran at American University, Washington, Aug. 5, 2015 (AP photo by Carolyn Kaster).

Last week at American University, Barack Obama gave one of the most important foreign policy speeches of his presidency. In it, he laid out his detailed argument for supporting the Iran nuclear deal. The president offered a veritable legal brief on why the deal makes the most sense for U.S. national security interests, why it’s better than any alternative, why its critics are wrong and why the agreement builds on a “tradition of strong, principled diplomacy” in U.S. foreign policy. But beyond that, Obama’s speech did something with even greater implications. It highlighted the widening dividing line between Democrats and […]

The United Nations Security Council unanimously adopts a resolution creating a Joint Investigative Mechanism to identify those responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Syria, New York, Aug. 7, 2015 (U.N. photo by Eskinder Debebe).

The United Nations was famously founded to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” It has a distinctly mixed track record on this front. Today, the U.N.’s goal often seems to be best described as making the scourge of war a little bit less dreadful. The Security Council demonstrated this tendency last Friday, when it endorsed an American-backed resolution launching a new panel to investigate the use of chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war. The panel, which will involve the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), is empowered to identify those responsible for dropping […]

Soldiers of the Chinese People's Liberation Army 1st Amphibious Mechanized Infantry Division prepare for a demonstration, Beijing, China, July 12, 2011 (DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley).

One of the hottest reads among Washington national security experts this summer is not the latest White House policy document or a big report from an influential think tank, but a novel by two of the national security community’s own: Peter Singer and August Cole. Their book, “Ghost Fleet,” is a riveting thriller in the Tom Clancy tradition. Much of the attention it is getting is due to its explanation of cutting-edge military technology, but it is also captivating—and important—because its core scenario is one that every policymaker and policy expert fears: a major war between the United States and […]

A Lebanese woman covers her nose from the smell as she walks on a street partly blocked by piles of garbage, Beirut, Lebanon, July 27, 2015 (AP photo by Hassan Ammar).

It is not every day that a population gets to experience the failings of government quite so pungently. Beirut, the cosmopolitan capital of Lebanon, has been choking in garbage. A brief respite due to a partial temporary solution will soon come to an end, and authorities are warning of grave health consequences if rotting refuse and garbage fires start choking the city again. But Beirut’s garbage crisis looms as much more than a health, welfare or infrastructure matter. More than anything, it is an unmistakable, asphyxiating metaphor for the country’s precarious political situation. And it may become the most unlikely […]

A FARC rebel stands guard on a hill before the release of two hostages, Montealegre, Colombia, Feb. 15, 2013 (AP photo by Juan B. Diaz).

If Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is successful in reaching an elusive peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), maintaining peace in the rural outposts of Colombia where the guerillas operate as a de-facto shadow government will prove exceedingly difficult. James Bargent explores this “other Colombia” in his World Politics Review feature this week. In the latest Global Dispatches podcast, Bargent, speaking from Medellin, and host Mark Goldberg discuss the challenges of implementing a potential peace deal in the remote areas of Colombia where the FARC has long held control and the Colombian government has a minimal […]

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