The international spotlight might be focused on the Obama administration’s efforts to change the tone of its dealings with Iran. But while global attention concentrates on the new U.S. approach, Iran’s regional relations with countries in the Middle East and beyond are undergoing a dramatic transformation, with repercussions that reach across the globe. A growing number of Arab countries have engaged in open diplomatic confrontation with Tehran. To compensate for the loss of friends in its own neighborhood, Iran has increasingly forged ties with leftist governments in Latin America, using its growing presence there to find novel ways to help […]

The UAE’s Arms Buildup

I’m not quite sure what to make of this, because it’s one of the more curious patterns I’ve spotted recently in my generally random, undirected news scanning. But the UAE is now the world’s third-largest arms purchaser, behind China and India. That’s a jump from 15th place between 1999-2003. The Al Jazeera article explains it in the context of the rising threat fom Iran. But from what I’d understood, the UAE was more of a hedger on Iran than other Sunni Arab states. In her WPR Briefing on the U.S.-UAE civilian nuclear deal last March, Elizabeth Zolotukhina pointed out that […]

John Woo on U.S. Military Adventurism

First thing I thought after catching John Woo’s new mega-period epic, Red Cliff, this weekend was, I wonder why I haven’t read any clever blog reviews discussing the film’s obvious subtext on America’s recent military adventurism yet. A few google searches later and I learned that the film not only hasn’t yet been released Stateside, it’s got no U.S. distributor. That, folks, is crazy. Either someone in Hollywood is really stupid, or someone in China is really greedy. (With regard to this movie, I mean.) To put it very simply, this is a great martial arts war flick, with a […]

Obama’s 100-Day Dash

I’m not going to have a whole lot to say about President Barack Obama’s first hundred days in office, since we invited an impressive group of foreign policy luminaries to do that for us in next Tuesday’s feature issue. But I will say this: Getting people with a hardened negative opinion about the U.S. to withhold judgment and instead pay attention to the message coming out of Washington is, in itself, a tangible result: – U.S., Cuban diplomats meet? Check.– Evo Morales impressed? Check.– Syria less mistrustful? Check.– Hamas keeping its ear to the ground? Check. Now, if you look […]

Iraq SOFA Under Strain

The U.S.-Iraq SOFA agreement is being doubly tested. The NY Times reports that U.S. and Iraqi military commanders will be discussing whether or not to exempt Mosul from the agreement’s June 30 deadline to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Iraqi cities. At the same time, the Times of India reports that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has officially protested an allegedly unauthorized raid by U.S. troops, one that Le Monde claims left an Iraqi woman and police officer dead. Maliki is calling for the troops responsible to be delivered to the Iraqi courts. The developments cap a period of heightened […]

Few took issue with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s bold assertion on Wednesday that the Pakistan-based Taliban pose a “mortal threat” to the United States. The stakes, of course, are high. The Taliban provided safe haven to Osama bin Laden prior to the 9/11 attacks, and could very well be doing so now. Since fleeing Afghanistan following the U.S. invasion in 2001, they have mounted stubborn insurgencies on both sides of the border that separates Afghanistan from Pakistan’s tribal areas, and have now established footholds in formerly secure parts of Pakistan. The fact that Pakistan is a nuclear-armed power makes […]

BEIRUT, Lebanon — On the surface, the opening of the Lebanese embassy in Damascus last month and of the Syrian Embassy in Beirut in December is a historic milestone, signaling a new era in Lebanese-Syrian relations. But substantive progress in the relationship remains slow and observers say it is unlikely to gain pace until after June’s parliamentary elections in Lebanon. In the past year, Lebanese-Syrian relations have been encouraged by domestic, regional and international influences. Principal among these has been the end of Syria’s diplomatic isolation after the formation of a Lebanese unity government in May 2008 ended a six-month […]

Only a few days remain before the opening of the United Nations anti-racism conference in Geneva, and maneuvering surrounding the controversial event is reaching a fever pitch. The stated goal of next week’s Durban Review Conference, as it is officially named, is to “evaluate progress” in the global fight against racism since the U.N.’s 2001 anti-discrimination conclave held in Durban, South Africa. That original Durban meeting turned into an embarrassing fiasco for the U.N., prompting Western nations to brace for a difficult and possibly unsuccessful effort to keep the “Durban II” gathering in Geneva from becoming another propaganda tirade in […]

It’s no secret that the U.S.-Egyptian relationship is ailing. As his term went on, President George W. Bush seemed to go to Egypt principally to deliver stern lectures. After years of visiting Washington every spring, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stopped coming to Washington at all. Despite — or perhaps because of — $2 billion per year changing hands, the mutual resentment has become palpable. The hostility among the two leaders reflects a deeper divide between their governments and even among peoples. More than three decades after U.S. and Egyptian presidents together changed the landscape of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the U.S.-Egyptian […]

NEW DELHI, India — One of India’s biggest ever defense deals with Israel, worth $2 billion, hovered on the brink of collapse earlier this month after allegations of graft to the tune of $120 million surfaced. Indian Defense Minister A. K. Anthony was quick to deny the claims, while asserting that the government would take strict action against the Israeli company and the Indian middlemen involved should the charges be true. This was, however, the second blow to Indo-Israeli relations in a matter of days — the first being a controversial video produced by Israeli defense firm Rafael and shown […]

Exit Avigdor Lieberman?

I haven’t devoted much space to the implications of Avigdor Lieberman holding the job of Israeli foreign minister, because I never expected a guy giving nine-hour interviews to corruption investigators to last long in it. Sure enough, now word comes that Lieberman’s facing the very serious possibility of indictment. Am I the only one who figured Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahuhad given Lieberman the foreign ministry because he expectedLieberman to take a fall, and soon? If that really was the plan, it looks like it might work to perfection.

What to Watch if U.S. Joins Iran Talks

The news that U.S. representatives will join the P5+1 talks with Iran is significant, but not really news. Same goes for the reaction from Tehran, which remains cautiously receptive and noncommittal. I’m more curious about the reaction from the EU3, particularly France. My hunch is that that will have a lot to do with what “reaching out to Iran on a one-to-one basis” — as per White House officials cited by the NY Times — amounts to. If that takes place on a strictly defined, single-issue basis — i.e. Iraq security cooperation, or Afghanistan supply routes — it shouldn’t cause […]

The Return of Annapolis

Interesting how the Annapolis conference — which was widely considered too little, too late from a lame-duck Bush administration — has suddenly taken on a different meaning now that, a) Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman repudiated it; and, b) U.S. President Barack Obama name-checked it in his speech before the Turkish Parliament. Part of that’s a reflection of the fact that a policy approach is only as good as the political capital behind it. But I wonder if, political capital and all, Obama doesn’t risk getting drawn into a very public battle that can’t be won. The political obstacles on […]

A fight is brewing in the U.S. military between manpower and technology. With the economy cratering and defense budgets flattening, we can no longer afford both large armies meant to pacify hostile populations, and legions of high-end air and naval platforms that fulfill our technological dreams. Because of the powerful political backing those high-end platforms enjoy, this budget conflict might spark a broad backlash to our recent fascination with wars of occupation. Our fetish for counterinsurgency campaigns has now made us a land power. We reacted to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq by expanding the ground services, even as […]

Anyone who hoped President Barack Obama would return to Washington with a suitcase full of gifts from his mostly European tour will find the souvenirs largely disappointing. While Obama managed to bring back some important achievements, most of them came in the form of warm feelings. Those are hard to gift-wrap. Following his maiden overseas voyage as U.S. president, Obama arrived home to find the same urgent crises he had left behind, compounded by new foreign policy challenges that had arisen during his absence. Making matters worse, the trip itself, while undeniable fruitful, produced few tangible results. When viewed through […]

COIN and the Militarization of Foreign Policy

I think Michael Cohen and I probably agree on more than he realizes, or at least more than what this post suggests. He identifies the militarization of foreign policy as the greatest danger of “embedding counterinsurgency doctrine in military planning.” I’m not sure about the causation there, since I don’t think the militarization of foreign policy depends exclusively on the trend towards COIN. But regular readers of the blog know that I consider the militarization of foreign policy not just a future danger but an alarming reality. And I agree with Cohen that the seductive “war-lite” aspects of COIN will […]

ISTANBUL, Turkey — President Barack Obama ended his recent European tour in Turkey with perhaps his most challenging mission: to repair and reinvigorate the frayed U.S.-Turkish strategic alliance. He left the country with what appears to be a solid new foundation on which to do so, but significant challenges remain ahead. The last eight years certainly have not been kind to the U.S.-Turkey relationship. The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 exposed a deep rift between the two countries. Ankara’s opposition to the war culminated in the Turkish Parliament voting down a motion that would have allowed American troops to […]

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