Secretary of State John Kerry’s powerful speech this afternoon makes it all too clear that the U.S. is progressing toward military strikes on Syria. There is dire humanitarian need, with the gassing of civilians being only the latest atrocity. Yet the Obama administration’s choice of tactics to meet that need are too limited; intervention by cruise missile will not sufficiently protect civilians and is therefore not ethically defensible. Writing for the Huffington Post today, Jeff McMahan lays out the ethical framework for assessing the potential U.S. strikes on Syria. Given the Syrian government’s attacks on its civilians, strikes intended “to […]

Prepping the international community for U.S. military strikes on Syria, the Obama administration, through Secretary of State John Kerry, invoked moral terms: “The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity.” The British government raised the argument a level further today, claiming that “the legal basis for military action would be humanitarian intervention.” And yet all signs point to an intervention narrowly focused on the Syrian military’s ability to deliver chemical weapons attacks. Nicholas Kristof sums up the rationale succinctly: “It would reinforce the international norm against weapons […]

As the Obama administration grapples with what to do next in Egypt, it may be instructive to review the U.S. efforts of the past decade to bring about fundamental political and economic change in Egypt and the other countries of the greater Middle East. The events of 9/11 were a deadly wake-up call to Washington that the status quo in the region—the perpetuation of sclerotic autocracies that provided no meaningful outlet for the economic and political aspirations of the populace—was not sustainable. Indeed, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was later to note—in June 2005, speaking in Cairo, no less—that “For […]

For more than a year, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its People’s Defense Forces (YPG) have exercised state-like power in the Kurdish regions of Syria. Supported by Iran with weapons and ammunition moved through central Iraq, the PYD—a Syrian affiliate of Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)—controls large parts of the border region between the Kurdish areas of Syria, Turkey and Iraq. Activists criticizing or not cooperating with the PYD have been abducted, tortured and sometimes killed. The PYD imposes taxes on gasoline, collects border fees and has established a system of courts. Since summer 2012, the Syrian regime has […]

The most remarkable trait of Washington’s policy toward Egypt has been its lack of clarity. That’s part of the reason why each side in the battle over Egypt’s future blames America for supporting the other. Now President Barack Obama has to decide whether or not to continue providing more than $1.5 billion in aid annually. He will be tempted to make another hazy, ambiguous decision, one that allows him to stand on all sides of the issue. Instead, he should take the opportunity to clarify America’s position. According to some reports, the Obama administration has secretly suspended aid, which manages […]

This month, Saudi Arabia reportedly offered to buy up to $15 billion worth of Russian arms if Russia would reduce its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In an email interview, Andrej Kreutz, an expert on Russia-Middle East relations and adjunct assistant professor at the University of Calgary, explained the recent trajectory of Russian-Saudi relations. WPR: What has been the trajectory of Russian-Saudi relations in the past few years? Andrej Kreutz: Between 2003 and 2010, there was some noticeable rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Russia, which have historically had somewhat conflicting, albeit nuanced, relations. Major signs of this gradual warming […]

Since the ouster of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and the brutal military crackdown on the Islamic movement that has led to more than 1,000 deaths, regional actors in the Middle East have been positioning themselves behind the opposing sides. There has been a divide among U.S. allies, with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait coming out in strong support of the military rule in Egypt, and Qatar remaining a strong supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Morsi government. “Saudi Arabia has emerged very publicly,” Phyllis Bennis, a Middle East analyst who directs the New Internationalism Project at […]

It is now something of a cliche to note that Turkey’s foreign policy mantra of “zero problems” has given way to problems everywhere Ankara looks. Nowhere is that truer than in the Turkey-Iran relationship, which has been buffeted from all sides over the past three years, reaching its lowest ebb with the two sides’ diametrically opposed positions in the stalemated Syrian civil war. In that time, Turkey and Iran have increasingly vied for influence across the region. In Iraq, Turkey backed the losing electoral bloc in the 2010 elections, and currently shelters fugitive Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi. By contrast, […]

Russia has been sending some confusing signals on Iran in recent weeks. Rumors began to circulate that Russian President Vladimir Putin would be heading to Tehran to meet with newly inaugurated President Hasan Rouhani—with some even predicting that Putin would “drop in” on Iran this week after completing his visit to Azerbaijan to confer with Azeri President Ilham Aliyev. Stories were also released that Russia was reconsidering its unilaterally imposed boycott on selling advanced S-300 air defense systems to Tehran, or at least replacing them with another variant, the Antei-2500 system, as a way to get Iran to drop its […]

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Among the many ways in which the Syrian civil war could radically reshape the Middle East, there is one that had, until recently, received little attention. Amid the chaos, Syria’s long-oppressed Kurds have decided to move toward autonomy. In addition, the intensifying fighting between Syrian Kurds and the Islamist militants of the Syrian opposition have prompted Kurdish leaders in neighboring Iraq to suggest they might intervene to help their brethren in Syria. The two developments are stoking fear among countries that are home to large Kurdish populations. These governments have always viewed the notion of an independent Kurdish state not […]

Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has won the presidential election against Soumaila Cisse in Mali, the West African country that made headlines in the past year and a half for its military coup and an international intervention to oust Islamist rebels. But while Cisse conceded Monday night in a peaceful conclusion to an election that some feared was coming too soon, many barriers remain in the way of the fulfillment of Keita’s campaign promise of unifying the country. Andrew Lebovich, Sahel consultant with the Open Society Initiative for West Africa and an expert on Mali, said Keita, who was prime minister from […]

At a joint press conference with his Indian counterpart Salman Khurshid in Ankara last month, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu described Khurshid’s visit to Turkey—the first by an Indian foreign minister in 10 years—as “historic.” The visit can be seen as part of an effort to visibly raise the profile of India-Turkey relations, which have been characterized by steadily expanding common ground on the geoeconomic front. India is now Turkey’s second-largest Asian trading partner, and Turkey is seeking more bilateral high-level exchanges as a precursor to expanded people-to-people contacts. For India, whose president will visit Turkey in the coming months, […]

Having discussed Russia’s policies toward Iran in my last column, I thought it would be instructive to analyze China’s policies toward the Islamic Republic to highlight the similarities and differences in their approaches, which are often overlooked. Beijing shares many of Moscow’s concerns, both regarding Iran’s nuclear program and the West’s reaction to it. But Chinese policymakers are often more timid than their Russian counterparts in defying Western preferences, even as they are at times bolder in seeking advantage from the crisis. During the past decade, China has joined Russia in opposing Iran’s efforts to acquire sensitive nuclear technologies but […]

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In July, the EU caved to pressure from the U.S. and Israel and added Hezbollah’s “military wing” to its blacklist of terrorist entities subject to financial sanctions. The U.S. and Israel applauded the move; Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah shrugged it off as meaningless. Nasrallah is right: It is meaningless. The first reason it’s meaningless, as noted elsewhere, is that Hezbollah is a fully integrated political and military organization, and there is no real way to enforce sanctions against the “military wing” by itself. The second and more important reason is that, as a policy tool, terrorist blacklists in general are […]

The tally of Arab Spring winners and losers keeps changing in the Middle East, and it’s difficult to predict how the list will look when the revolutionary fervor dies down. There is one player, however, whose fortunes have eroded so dramatically as to bring into question whether it will survive as currently constituted. Hamas, the Islamist militant branch of the Muslim Brotherhood that has governed the Palestinian Gaza Strip since it took control by force in 2007, suddenly finds itself against the ropes, struggling to remain viable and showing its increasing difficulties through actions that reek of desperation. Hamas now […]

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Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) moved to rein in the Turkish military last week by blocking the promotion of a high-profile commander, Gen. Bekir Kalyoncu, and instead forcing the general’s retirement. Turkish media described the move as being tied to what is called the Ergenekon case, in which military officials are accused of trying to overthrow the government. Kalyoncu’s forced retirement, combined with the life sentence handed to former military chief Gen. Ilker Basbug in the Ergenekon case, underscored the shifting state of civil-military relations in Turkey, which is marked by a […]

Since the birth of the transnational Salafi jihadist movement in Afghanistan during the 1980s, its leaders have refined a strategy based on “swarming.” Jihadists tied to or inspired by al-Qaida look for a conflict where locals are fighting a repressive or ineffective regime, preferably one seen as an outside, impious force. Jihadists then flock to the conflict and join local fighters, cast the clash in religious terms, push the locals toward the Salafist position associated with al-Qaida and, if possible, take over the resistance. Their goal is creation of an independent “emirate” to inspire other jihadists and, eventually, re-create the […]

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