For nearly four decades, Egypt stood as a tent pole in America’s strategic position in the Arab Middle East. Starting in the 1970s, Washington and Cairo coordinated military and diplomatic policies, building what appeared to be reliable, predictable and lasting links between the Arab world’s most populous nation and the world’s most powerful country. Now, as fierce political winds batter the region, America’s entire structure of relationships in the area looks shaky, and the ties that bind Egypt and the U.S. have become dangerously frayed. Without special attention, the United States and Egypt could end up losing an alliance that […]

Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist organization that rules the Gaza Strip, has significant interests in the stability of neighboring Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Like Egypt and Israel, Hamas has a stake in countering the rise of Salafi-jihadi groups in Sinai, some of which originally hail from Gaza. These groups are currently attacking Egyptian forces in Sinai, and they have on occasion attacked Israel from across the Egyptian border; but they also serve as an existential threat to Hamas’ control over the Palestinian enclave. As such, and somewhat awkwardly, Hamas shares interests with Egypt, which is currently cracking down on Hamas’ Egyptian counterpart, […]

Though important to both, the security relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia has for decades been very peculiar, pairing the world’s leading liberal democracy with one of the most conservative nations. Scott McConnell described it as a “protection racket: We provide protection to the Saudi monarchy, and they use their oil wealth to aid the U.S. in other objectives, most importantly keeping the price of oil stable.” Recently this has not seemed enough—the relationship has steadily eroded as differences festered and grew. In a sense, it is less surprising that the U.S.-Saudi partnership has hit a shoal than […]

Washington got two important reminders this week that it cannot take anything for granted in the current international environment. On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, was reported as saying that the kingdom is planning to make a “major shift” in its relations with the United States. Then on Wednesday, India and China announced an agreement designed to defuse border tensions. Underlying these two moves is the reality that in a more chaotic, G-Zero world, all countries are going to hedge their bets. It is, of course, important not to overreact. Some sources have suggested that Bandar’s […]

In Iraq, the civilian death toll so far this year is nearly double what it was last year, with car bombings and other attacks by al-Qaida-linked militants on the rise. The violence has been described as reminiscent of Iraq’s sectarian civil war, which peaked in 2006-2007 as Sunni and Shiite militias fought one another. But Doug Ollivant, a senior national security fellow with the New America Foundation, noted that Iraq’s recent violence is being waged almost exclusively by the Sunni extremist group al-Qaida in Iraq, which “is striking primarily Shiite civilians, government targets and their own political enemies among the […]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal in Europe Monday and Tuesday in an effort to soothe mounting tensions in the relationship that have recently spilled into public view. Signs of strain in a pivotal U.S. partnership in the Middle East were evident last week when Saudi Arabia, in a surprise move, declined to assume a United Nations Security Council seat it had previously sought and won, citing the body’s failures in Syria. That was followed this weekend by the disclosure of the Saudi intelligence chief’s comments to European diplomats that Saudi Arabia […]

A historic change is underway in the global security system. As Harvard political scientist Stephen Walt wrote, the world is witnessing “a sharp decline in America’s ability to shape the global order.” In the future, Walt and others believe, “the United States simply won’t have the resources to devote to international affairs that it had in the past.” Christopher Layne of the George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University is even more blunt: “The epoch of American dominance is drawing to a close, and international politics is entering a period of transition: no longer unipolar […]

In diplomacy, it is easier to pull off a stunt than sustain a long-term strategy. Last week Saudi Arabia managed some multilateral acrobatics at the United Nations by winning a seat on the Security Council unopposed and then almost immediately renouncing it. Most states lobby for a council seat for years and cling desperately to the kudos that it offers. But the Saudi Foreign Ministry declared that the U.N.’s failures to resolve the Palestinian issue and intervene effectively in the Syrian civil war add up to “irrefutable evidence and proof of the inability of the Security Council to carry out […]

Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh signed an agreement to enable future civil nuclear cooperation between the two countries. While the text has not been made public, it appears that the agreement will not include a so-called Gold Standard provision proscribing Vietnam from enriching uranium or reprocessing plutonium. The agreement marks the latest installment in a decade-long effort by the United States and other major nuclear powers to limit the further spread of uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing technologies (ENR), which can provide both fuel for nuclear power and fissile […]

The first round of talks between Iran and the P5+1—China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.S. and the U.K.—in Geneva earlier this week ended on an upbeat note, with the concluding joint statement noting that the meeting had been conducted in a “positive atmosphere. A U.S. official was quoted as saying, “We really are beginning that type of negotiation where one could imagine that you could possibly have an agreement.” Having received the Iranian proposals, the negotiators are returning to consult with their respective governments and will reassemble in early November to assess the proposals submitted by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed […]

Western powers tried to keep their poker faces, displaying calculated restraint in describing positive signs from the meetings with Iran this week in Geneva. In keeping with the new tone since the election of Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, the atmosphere is by all accounts much more conciliatory, with talk of an end-game for resolving the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program. While there is no denying the sharp contrast between the old insult- and evasion-laden interactions that characterized the days when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was Iran’s president, there are a number of worrisome signs that indicate the current process is not as […]

The Nobel Committee’s decision to award this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is welcome news. The organization is struggling with difficult missions in Syria and elsewhere, with a frozen budget and obsolete equipment, and the prize will provide a needed boost to the organization’s profile. Unfortunately, the peace prize will not make the many challenges the OPCW faces any easier. Even with the elimination of the Syrian, Libyan and eventually Russian and U.S. chemical weapons arsenals, the threat of chemical weapons use is likely to persist. The OPCW lacks the authority […]

Amid the diplomatic breakthrough at the Security Council and arrival of the United Nations chemical weapons inspection team in Damascus, many observers have lost sight of two key questions about Syria: How did the regime get its chemical weapons, and how might tragedies like the Aug. 21 chemical attack on Syrian civilians be prevented in the future? While Syria has had the technological means to manufacture chemical weapons for decades, it does not currently produce the precursors for the sarin nerve agent we now know was used outside of Damascus. Outside sources were necessary. Some have suggested Iran and North […]

If you had to make a reckoning of the United Nations’ failures in recent years, the Central African Republic (CAR) and Syria would both rank high on the list. The U.N.’s setbacks over Syria have been extensively chronicled. The trouble in CAR is less well-known, but equally depressing. In March this year, U.N. political officers in the persistently unstable country were caught off-guard as rebels advanced on its capital, Bangui. Their reports to New York were delayed and got no serious response—U.N. personnel were evacuated just in time, as the rebels triumphed and launched a reign of chaos that still […]

Last weekend’s dispatch of U.S. special operations units on missions into Tripoli, Libya, and Barawe, Somalia, to capture leading terrorist figures, building on earlier operations such as the 2011 mission that led to the death of Osama bin Laden, reflects an ongoing shift in the Obama administration’s willingness to risk U.S. casualties as well as deal with possible diplomatic incidents in order to go after high-value targets in the war on terror. It is a marked contrast to the unwillingness during the Clinton administration, prior to 9/11, to countenance possible losses or to insert American operatives on the ground in […]

The U.S. Department of State announced on Wednesday that it would be “recalibrating” its aid to Egypt, holding back the delivery of $260 million, most of it military assistance, from the $1.5 billion annual U.S. aid package for Egypt. By delaying the delivery of military systems including tanks, missiles and aircraft, and suspending some cash assistance to the Egyptian government, the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama is hoping to push Egypt down a path toward civilian governance through free and fair elections. But the two experts who spoke with Trend Lines do not believe that the move will achieve […]

As the central drama of the just-concluded United Nations General Assembly played out, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the final speaker of the session, performed a supporting but crucial role. He came on stage as the mood spoiler, the man who disrupted the central narrative of a new, nonthreatening Iran under President Hasan Rouhani ready to reconcile with the world. Netanyahu told the world to wake up and realize that Iran’s new image was all a fiction. The prime minister’s stern words elicited a wide range of responses, including harsh criticism. In Israel, many found the address jarring. There was […]

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