The termination of the European Union embargo on providing military equipment to Syria’s rebels, combined with renewed efforts in the U.S. Congress to goad the Obama administration into providing arms to the anti-Assad opposition, suggests that the West will soon become more directly involved in aiding the fight against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The shift comes despite the near absence of domestic support in any NATO-member country for inserting troops directly into the fighting, and with concerns that establishing and enforcing any sort of no-fly zone over Syrian airspace might expose Western aircrews to unacceptable levels of […]

Since the start of the Middle East uprisings in early 2011, the region has slipped into a period of uncertainty, with a battle for political influence and legitimacy stretching across state borders. Two rich countries in the Persian Gulf region, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have operated with different and sometimes divergent strategies for trying to shape the political transitions in Egypt and impact violent struggles for power in places like Syria. Understanding this dramatically changed regional context is important in analyzing the approaches of Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Since 2011, the competition for power and influence in the Middle East […]

Prior to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s mid-May visit to Washington, the expectation among many observers was that the Turkish leader would be coming to the White House to press a reluctant President Barack Obama to commit to supporting more forceful—that is, military—action against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. However, Erdogan’s trip played out quite differently. Rather than Erdogan convincing Obama to change positions, it was the U.S. president who got the normally strong-willed Turkish prime minister to soften his tone and publicly support the Geneva II process, Washington’s effort to convene an international conference next month on […]

The Arab Uprisings were principally sparked by the brutality of the security sector in almost every single country where they occurred. In Tunisia, Mohammed Bouazizi’s self-immolation following an insult by the police in December 2010 triggered the revolution. In Egypt, the June 2010 murder by two policemen of Internet activist Khaled Said, followed by the brutality of police during the fraudulent parliamentary elections of November-December 2010, set the revolution’s context. In Libya, the arrest in February 2011 of Fathy Terbil—a human rights lawyer who had represented the families of the victims of the June 1996 Abu Selim Prison massacre, in […]

Counterinsurgency theorists and stability operations specialists concur that developing competent local police forces is an absolute imperative to stabilize a fragile state. Yet, the U.S. government frequently seems to honor this principle in the breach. Indeed, the United States lacks the ability to effectively train and develop what is arguably the most important component of a state’s internal security forces. This gap was clearly illustrated by the American experience with police-building during the decade-long interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, with significant consequences in both countries. A survey of those efforts makes it clear that the development of effective indigenous police […]

In his speech yesterday at the National Defense University, President Barack Obama offered a detailed and comprehensive vision of how he plans to wind down the global war on terrorism. Perhaps inspired by the continued and growing criticism from his political base that his maintenance—and expansion—of executive powers inherited from the George W. Bush administration was setting troubling precedents for future chief executives, Obama announced his interest in limiting the legal basis for any future president’s ability to wield vast national security powers. He also outlined a “second go” at closing the facility at Guantanamo Bay; his first effort, heralded […]

The Libyan city of Benghazi saw a string of bombings early this month, highlighting Libya’s remaining internal security challenges two years after the fall of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. In an email interview, William Lawrence, director of International Crisis Group’s North Africa project, explained the landscape of Libya’s armed groups and the international role in security sector reform. WPR: What are the main armed groups currently operating in Libya, and what are their goals? William Lawrence: As reported by Small Arms Survey in June 2012 and in Crisis Group’s “Holding Libya Together” and “Divided We Stand,” there are four types […]

Early Sunday morning, the war in Syria took a new turn when forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and large numbers of Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon launched a major offensive to retake the Syrian town of Qusair. The ferocious battle, which continues to rage on, goes a long way in explaining some of the strategy and tactics currently dominating the conflict. In times of peace, the western city Qusair was not a particularly large or important one. The town’s population, which has fluctuated with the civil war, has ranged between 30,000 and 40,000. In recent weeks, however, the significance of […]

There have been conflicting reports regarding the health of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika since he was airlifted to a military hospital in Paris, France, for treatment following a mini-stroke in late-April. Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal has denied rumors that the president, who remains in France, is seriously ill. But speculation over who might replace Bouteflika, and what might come next for the North African country he has presided over since 1999, continues. While Bouteflika may yet return to Algeria, his health makes it unlikely that he will be able to stand for re-election in the presidential balloting set for […]

The Syrian civil war has become one of the most complex and tragic conflicts of the 21st century. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that 80,000 have died since 2011. The United Nations believes that 1.5 million Syrians are refugees, and that number could increase dramatically in coming months. Day by day, Syria is losing an entire generation, one that will be scarred by violence and unprepared to be productive citizens someday. Yet the conflict continues because those who could stop it—the Assad regime and its supporters, the various rebel movements and the external nations supporting one side or […]

Security has crumbled on Tunisia’s western border with Algeria in recent months. A small but destructive group of jihadi militants with links to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has infiltrated the region, with weighty security implications for both Tunisia and Algeria. To successfully rout the jihadists in the short term, the Tunisian military needs better equipment, which the government has promised to deliver. But it is not yet clear whether Tunis is ready to pursue the deeper military and economic reforms needed to quell the terrorist threat in the long term. Tunisian government forces have so far failed to […]

At their White House summit last week, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President Barack Obama reaffirmed the two countries’ “model partnership” as they jointly called for greater international efforts to end the Syrian War. Thus far, the Arab Spring has had an overall positive effect on the Turkey-U.S. relationship. Before 2011, the Turkish-U.S. policy discourse focused on their divisions over Iraq, Iran and other regional security issues. But since the Arab Spring, Ankara and Washington have been preoccupied with harmonizing their policies toward the Arab world. This has become increasingly difficult with regard to Syria. Meanwhile, the […]

If I were a strategist sitting in Beijing, I would see the prospects of any U.S. intervention in the Syrian civil war as being very beneficial to China. This might seem counterintuitive, given that Beijing, following Moscow’s lead, has resolutely blocked any effort in the U.N. Security Council to authorize any sort of action in Syria. But while China is not interested in giving a green light to legitimize U.S. involvement, Beijing would quickly seize the opportunity to take advantage should the U.S. decide to entangle itself more closely in Damascus’ affairs. For one thing, China has a good track […]

Last week’s congressional hearing on the September 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, reignited the controversy over allegations that the Obama administration covered up or lied about details of the attack. The dispute will consume Washington for some time, ultimately influencing President Barack Obama’s effectiveness during his second term as well as the way the U.S. military responds to future crises. There are three big questions about the Benghazi attacks: Did the Obama administration, particularly the State Department, take prudent steps to assure the security of embassy personnel in Libya before the attacks? Has the administration […]

Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted Mohammed Morsi, a former Muslim Brotherhood leader and Egypt’s first post-Arab Spring president, even as Russia continued to back Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus against an assorted opposition that includes the Syrian branch of the Brotherhood. This apparent contradiction illustrates the challenges Russia is facing in the post-Arab Spring Middle East. Like virtually everyone else, Moscow was surprised by the groundswell of change that began in the Arab world in early 2011. Experts advising the Russian government call this a tectonic shift and compare its impact to that of the two defining periods […]

The withdrawal of Kurdish militants from Turkey across the border into Iraq is highlighting the role of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in regional geopolitics ahead of KRG elections planned for September. In an email interview, Michael M. Gunter, a professor of political science at Tennessee Technological University who focuses on Kurdish issues, discussed the state of internal Kurdish politics. WPR: What is the political landscape in Iraqi Kurdistan ahead of the September elections? Michael M. Gunter: To begin with, I would not assume that the September elections will be held as scheduled. These elections might again be postponed, as […]

John Kerry undertook his maiden voyage to Moscow as U.S. secretary of state this week, and the initial impression is that his visit was a success. There was a perceptible thaw in what, over the past year, has been described as a much more contentious relationship. U.S. officials have focused on the prospect of a “more intensified dialogue with the Russians” that can now take place in the aftermath of the presidential elections in both Russia and the United States. Building upon the foundation laid last month by National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, Kerry continued the process of leaving behind […]

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