On Oct. 17, Iranian border guards clashed with drug traffickers on the wild Iran-Afghan frontier and subsequently seized 331 lbs of narcotics contraband. The incident would be just one of many such skirmishes that take place every week, were it not for one difference: The seized drugs were not the usual suspects of Afghan opium and hashish, but rather synthetic drugs, highlighting alarming changes to the Southwest Asian narcotics industry. Synthetic drugs, such as potent crystal meth (called “shisheh,” or “glass” in Farsi), LSD and various forms of refined heroin (including a smokable, condensed-rock form referred to locally as “crack”) […]

On Nov. 18, for the first time since their October 2007 summit in Tehran, the leaders of the five Caspian Sea littoral states — Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan — gathered in Baku to discuss issues including maritime-border delimitation, security and environmental protection. Despite a dramatically changed regional situation since the last summit, the Baku meeting nevertheless produced little in terms of substantive outcomes. But recent trends point to future breakthroughs. What has changed since the Tehran summit? Washington and Moscow have achieved a warming in relations, with burgeoning bilateral cooperation on Iran and Afghanistan in particular. To avoid […]

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There’s an inherent risk involved in taking at face value the policy declarations of a country’s leader. My general rule of thumb is to do so when the declaration in question supports an argument I’m trying to defend. And that’s certainly the case when it comes to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s description of Ukraine’s approach to its foreign policy posture: After his first meeting with the European Union, Mr. Yanukovich contrasted past disputes with Russia with the way in which he said Ukraine is now working — “in the spirit of partnership in the triangle of Russia-Europe-Ukraine.” But it’s worth […]

It is very likely that come the end of November, after a busy month traveling to Asia and Europe, President Barack Obama will have emerged with few decisive victories to burnish his image after the “shellacking” he took in the midterm elections. Instead, Obama and his team will have to adjust to some hard realities. Though the new Congress will not be seated until January 2011, we are already seeing changes in the political climate in Washington that will test the administration’s ability to show, both to Americans and to other governments, that the executive branch is still in the […]

Human rights were glaringly absent from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s agenda when she recently met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit ahead of Egypt’s Nov. 28 parliamentary elections. The silence is noteworthy, given Cairo’s suppression of the political opposition in advance of the elections as well as its overall dismal human rights record. The Obama administration fears that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will respond to criticism by withdrawing both political support for the stumbling Israeli-Palestinian peace process and logistical support for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. The administration is also concerned that criticism would boost […]

Since coming to office, the Obama administration has paid a great deal of attention to the Middle East. Somehow, however, the frequently turbulent country of Lebanon slid precipitously down the list of Washington’s most-urgent regional priorities. Among the other strategic projects on its regional to-do list, Washington was working to engage with Syria, bring Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table, improve relations with Muslims, impose sanctions on Iran, and end the war in Iraq. Lebanon, perhaps unsurprisingly, got short shrift, even though it has always played an outsized role in the region, serving as the stage where powerful players […]

On Nov. 12, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcomed the formation of a new coalition government in Baghdad, calling it “a milestone in the emergence of the new Iraq and . . . a testament to the determination of the Iraqi people to build their own democracy . . . ” President Barack Obama offered a similar greeting from Seoul, where he was attending the G-20 economic summit. The new Iraqi government, should it hold, will be welcomed throughout the country as well as by its foreign partners. Its members’ immediate challenge will be to finalize the details of their […]

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I had the pleasure of participating last Friday in France 24’s panel discussion program, The World This Week, along with the IHT’s Eric Pfanner, Newsweek’s Christopher Dickey and the AFP’s David Clarke. The topics were the G-20 summit, Ireland’s debt crisis, the newly formed Iraqi government and George W. Bush’s return to the spotlight. Part one can be found here. Part two can be found here.

Egyptians like to say that their country is Umm al Dunya, or “the Mother of the World,” and that, as the crucible of a great civilization dating back 7,000 years, its natural place is among both regional and global powers. In many ways, the boast is entirely accurate. By dint of its history, geography, and demography, Egypt has played a central role in Middle East politics and security policy since World War I. Successive global powers such as Great Britain, the Soviet Union and, most recently, the United States have come to regard Egypt as an indispensable asset for achieving […]

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) was sent to the Senate for consideration in May 2010, but its outlook is far from clear. To be ratified, the treaty mustachievetwo-thirds majorityapproval. But some treaty provisions, viewed by certain senators as restricting U.S. missile defense objectives, were already an obstacle to ratification six months ago. Even in its current configuration, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee has demanded elimination of the treaty provisions related to missile defense and certain non-nuclear systems. Given Republican gains in the Senate following the midterm elections, these provisions will face even greater opposition come January. Removing […]

A few days after the discovery of an al-Qaida plot to ship bombs disguised as printer cartridges from Yemen to the United States, a powerful explosion shook the ground in Gaza City. The blast ripped apart a brand new car, just imported into Gaza, as it drove near police headquarters in the coastal strip’s largest city. After some initial confusion about what had happened, Israeli officials took responsibility for the blast, saying its security forces had killed a top terrorist on the verge of carrying out a massive operation. Most of the Israeli and international media accepted that version of […]

In the run-up to NATO’s heads of state summit later this month in Lisbon, much of the discussion has focused on questions of the alliance’s relevance and identity, with particular attention paid to the alliance’s new Strategic Concept to be rolled out in Lisbon. But a more practical issue that will be discussed at the summit is whether to make comprehensive ballistic missile defense (BMD) an alliance-wide mission. Despite a lack of enthusiasm in Turkey and continuing discontent in Russia and perhaps some other non-NATO countries, NATO governments generally support the Obama administration’s phased adaptive approach to European missile defense. […]

Turkey has become increasingly assertive in the Western Balkans in recent years, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying only last week that his country would be happy to mediate in bilateral talks between Kosovo and Serbia. While Turkish involvement in the region is welcomed in many quarters, some say Ankara may be overplaying its hand. Turkey’s ambitious vision for the region, which the Turkish Ottoman empire held sway over for centuries, is no secret. “The Ottoman centuries of the Balkans were success stories,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on a visit to Sarajevo in October last year. “Now […]

For much of the last half-century, the U.S. has failed to engage the nations of resource-wealthy Latin America in any strategic manner. This lack of attention to our closest neighbors, and some of our strongest allies, is dangerously short-sighted given U.S. dependence on Latin America as a source for our energy. Currently, more than one-fourth of America’s imported oil comes from Latin America, which is estimated to hold 13.5 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves. In 2009, the U.S. imported 11 percent of its crude oil from Mexico, 9 percent from Venezuela, 3 percent from Brazil and 2 percent […]

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It’s pretty rare that a politician does an about-face as flagrant and publicly documented as French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s stance on human rights in the conduct of foreign policy. Here he is back in the summer of 2007, just before his first meeting with Russia’s then-President Vladimir Putin: Mr. Sarkozy has promised to confront Mr. Putin about human rights violations in Chechnya and about the slaying last October of Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist who wrote scathingly of the Russian president. Here he is yesterday before his meeting in Paris with Chinese President Hu Jintao: “China should not be seen as […]

Oil and gas discoveries in the eastern Mediterranean are ratcheting up tensions in a region that already has its fair share of pernicious disputes. Rival communities on the divided island of Cyprus, as well as Turkey and arch-enemies Lebanon and Israel are staking claims in one of the world’s newest oil frontiers. The region’s deposits are minor compared to the Persian Gulf, but for small nations like Israel and Cyprus they hold substantial promise. But rather than providing an opportunity for stability through economic cooperation, the discoveries raise the specter of renewed conflict as the parties push ahead with deals […]

Writing recently in the Financial Times, long-time economic journalist Gideon Rachman lamented the passing of a post-Cold War “golden age,” in which “countries shared a belief in globalization and Western democratic values.” In Rachman’s calculation, that consensus has been battered by the global financial crisis, which ushered in a “new, less-predictable era.” Rachman, whose book entitled “Zero-Sum Future” comes out next February, is clearly prepping the literary battlefield by positioning himself as an “anti-Robert Wright.” The latter’s book, “Non-Zero: The Logic of Human Destiny,” argued that human progress has been characterized by — and thus depends on — our increasing […]

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