While American policymakers are fond of repeating the mantra that “all options are on the table” when it comes to dealing with Iran and its nuclear program, the president publicly took one option off the table during his recent visit to Israel: Speaking to college students, Barack Obama reiterated, “Iran must not get a nuclear weapon. This is not a danger that can be contained.” If the Obama administration has indeed definitively rejected containment as an option, the United States will not develop contingencies for if and when Iran crosses the nuclear threshold. That means Washington is now committed to […]

AMMAN, Jordan — Two years after the start of the Arab Spring, Jordan’s King Abdullah II has launched what he says is a third way. His approach, the king maintains, will bring peaceful democratic change, empowering the people and modernizing the country, while averting chaos and preventing extremist parties from emerging victorious. It’s a tall order, and one that has met with doubt among many skeptics and critics. So far, the Arab uprisings have given people of all political persuasions a reason to feel anxious. Arab liberals have not made any significant gains. Islamist groups, the principal winners until now, […]

On Friday, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced that his government would resign because of a dispute with Hezbollah, the Shiite militia that dominates the Lebanese cabinet. Hezbollah had opposed extending the term of Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, who heads the Lebanese Internal Security Forces and is, like Mikati, a Sunni Muslim. But Elias Muhanna, assistant professor of comparative literature and Middle East studies at Brown University and author of the Qifa Nabki blog about Lebanon, told Trend Lines that Mikati also had other reasons to resign. “There is a lot of polarization in this cabinet, which is typical for […]

The recent 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq sparked a flurry of attention. Op-eds, blogs, conferences and panels of all sorts sprouted, most dealing with the “lessons” the United States should draw from its initial decision to invade and subsequent long involvement in the country. As the lesson fest subsides, attention is shifting to Iraq’s current security predicament and its relationship with the United States. Unfortunately, it is not a pretty picture. With war raging in neighboring Syria and the Shiite-dominated regime in Baghdad continuing to exclude Sunni Arabs as much as possible, al-Qaida is on the rebound […]

A year after an uprising toppled Yemen’s then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh, interim President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi is struggling to consolidate state authority over a country in which 70 percent of the population resides in tribal or rural areas. In an email interview, Khaled Fattah, a guest lecturer at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University in Sweden and an expert on Yemen’s state-tribe relations, explained the enduring dynamics of Yemen’s tribal politics and how they are likely to influence the course of the country’s transition. WPR: What role did Yemen’s tribes play in the process leading to […]

Jordan is reportedly choosing between two designs for nuclear power reactors in part to help address a domestic energy shortage, stoking fears about the spread of nuclear technology in a region still gripped by upheaval. In an email interview, Steve Thomas, director of research at the business school at University of Greenwich and an expert on the economics and policy of nuclear power, explained the significant obstacles to Jordan’s development of nuclear power. WPR: What is the current state of Jordan’s nuclear energy program? Steve Thomas: Reports implying that Jordan will soon order two nuclear power reactors are misleading. It […]

Last week, a ceremony was held at the headquarters of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to mark the mission’s 35th birthday. The operation began in March 1978 to patrol southern Lebanon after Israel mounted an offensive against Palestinian fighters in the area. Since then, UNIFIL’s history has been punctuated by crises. In 1982 and 2006, the peacekeepers were sidelined during further Israeli incursions into southern Lebanon. The mission was heavily reinforced in August 2006 after the inconclusive war between Israel and Hezbollah, and it still totals roughly 11,000 blue helmets. But UNIFIL is currently facing potentially more-serious […]

Sudan has been pursuing some eye-catching regional diplomacy in recent weeks. In late-February, Sudan’s ICC-indicted defense minister was in Riyadh, while its oil czar was in Tehran. These visits followed a meeting between Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the sidelines of an Organization of Islamic Cooperation meeting in Cairo in January, and Bashir’s attendance at the Arab Economic Development Summit in Riyadh earlier in February. Combined, the moves suggest a shift in Sudan’s tactical approach to relations with Saudi Arabia and Iran, one guided by Khartoum’s pragmatic concerns for regime survival. Sudan has had difficult […]

Today marks the last day of President Barack Obama’s Middle East trip. In a speech yesterday in Jerusalem, he advocated restarting the Israel-Palestine peace process, saying that “just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land.” Trend Lines spoke with Ghaith al-Omari, executive director of the American Task Force on Palestine, about the visit as well as the broader state of relations between Palestine and the United States. “It was an Israel-centric visit, but it showed continued U.S. commitment to a two-state solution and the Palestinian Authority,” […]

From the moment the White House announced that President Barack Obama would travel to Israel, the administration undertook a systematic effort to lower expectations, calling the trip a “listening mission.” On that count, the president’s trip succeeded before it started. Practically no one expects the Obama visit to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan to achieve any kind of a historic triumph. Given the deliberately minimized ambitions of the trip, how will we know if this much-anticipated tour was worth the president’s time? How can we judge if it truly was a failure or a success? The idea of nipping […]

Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, has called for a truce with Turkey, with which the Kurdish rebel group has fought for 30 years. In a letter that was read earlier today to crowds gathered for the Kurdish New Year celebrations in southern Turkey, the PKK chief called for a cease-fire and for the removal of PKK fighters from the country. While past truces have been called and then abandoned, the announcement is being greeted with optimism in some quarters. “This is the first time in a long time that there is a serious […]

Strategic retrenchment is all the rage among America’s national security experts. There is increasing agreement that the global strategy of the past two decades is politically and economically unsustainable, so Washington must cut its security commitments and scale down engagement around the world, particularly when it involves the U.S. military. This is not a new idea. After World War II, some political leaders and opinion shapers encouraged President Harry Truman to follow American tradition and disengage from Europe and Asia. That pressure ended only when the extent of the Soviet threat became clear and North Korea invaded South Korea. After […]

The Higgs boson has captured the imagination of the public, worldwide. Why? The answer is fundamental to the human race, a feature that sets humans apart from other living species: our curiosity and desire to understand the world we live in. Some of this knowledge is self-serving — for example, how to cope with diseases or improve our ways of life. But human curiosity goes well beyond just satisfying those practical needs and desires. Whether it be the origin of the universe or the inner dynamics of microscopic particles, we simply want to understand how things work. Basic research, sometimes […]

Last week, European leaders did one of the things they do best: look hesitant over how to handle a pressing foreign policy question. As the European Union’s leaders gathered for a summit in Brussels, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President François Hollande declared the bloc should end its arms embargo on Syria, enabling them to send weapons to the rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad. But their counterparts appeared convinced that this would only exacerbate the conflict. German Chancellor Angela Merkel seemed especially unfavorable toward the proposal, observing that “the fact that two have changed their minds” didn’t oblige […]

On March 8, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain appointed Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa to serve as deputy prime minister, a move that was widely lauded as injecting new momentum into the national dialogue process between the ruling monarchy and the opposition and sending a positive signal to a long-disheartened opposition. So far the national dialogue has moved forward with high hopes, but much of the discussion has centered on its scope, participation and logistics. The real test of success will be whether the process can resolve the crucial issues of an empowered parliament, electoral gerrymandering and […]

With less than 100 days left until Iran holds presidential elections, the field of candidates remains surprisingly unclear. The regime is taking pains to make sure there is no repeat of the 2009 fiasco, when a strong reformist movement mounted a powerful showing and challenged the official results, threatening the stability of the Islamic Republic. This time, the regime is keeping a much tighter rein on the process and, it hopes, on the ultimate repercussions. It is all but certain that when the votes are counted after the June 14 polls close, the winner will be a conservative, loyal to […]

In February, German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Turkey, indicating a willingness to help Turkey revive stalled negotiations over its longstanding bid for European Union membership. In an email interview, Rana Deep Islam, a project manager with Stiftung Mercator whose research focuses on Turkey-EU relations, explained the state of Turkey’s EU accession bid and how it could move forward. WPR: What is behind Germany’s recent statement that it will support reviving Turkey’s EU accession process? Rana Deep Islam: The German government under Merkel still does not have a clear-cut policy on how it wants to handle Turkey’s membership aspirations. On one […]

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