Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi speak during a press conference in Baghdad, Iraq, Feb. 23, 2014 (AP photo by Ahmed Saad).

When asked recently by New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman whether China, as the “biggest energy investor in Iraq,” should behave more like a stakeholder there, U.S. President Barack Obama had a pointed reply. The Chinese, he said, “have been free riders for the last 30 years and it’s worked really well for them,” while the United States has had to bear the burdens of maintaining international security and prosperity for the good of the world. Those comments triggered a sharply negative reaction in the Chinese press. Although Obama might not have intended to be so blunt, his remarks […]

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in Tehran, Iran, June 14, 2014 (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi).

In an address to Foreign Ministry officials on Aug. 11, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani did not hold back his frustration with critics who have regularly slammed his administration’s nuclear negotiations with the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany, known as the P5+1. Sharply deviating from his usual calm and moderate tone, Rouhani told his critics to go “to hell.” “Some people deliver slogans but they are political cowards and as soon as there is talk of negotiations they say ‘we’re trembling,’” Rouhani said. “Go and find a warm place for yourselves,” he added. “God has made you fearful […]

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay meets with South Sudan's former Vice President and now rebel leader Riek Machar at an undisclosed location in South Sudan, April 29, 2014 (AP photo by UNMISS).

“The System Worked.” That is the title of a new book by Daniel W. Drezner reviewing the role of institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization in the global financial crisis. Although the world economy tanked in 2008, Drezner argues, multilateral organizations helped save it from collapse. It is unlikely that anyone will write a book about the current wars in the Middle East and Ukraine with a similar title. A pithy summary of the United Nations’ rifts over Syria or NATO’s inability to halt Russia from seizing Crimea could be “the system flopped.” While the […]

A Russian construction worker speaks on a mobile phone in Portovaya Bay, Russia, during a ceremony marking the start of Nord Stream pipeline construction, April 9, 2010 (AP photo by Dmitry Lovetsky).

It is the misfortune of the Obama administration to preside over the unraveling of several long-term U.S. strategies in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. The tactics used by previous administrations to delay making hard choices in the hope that problems would resolve themselves over time without Washington being required to make sacrifices are no longer available, as the crises in both regions make abundantly clear. For the past 20 years, successive U.S. administrations have held open the door for Ukraine’s full integration into the Euro-Atlantic world, with the expectation that either Russia would at long last accept the move […]

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan acknowledges supporters after his election victory, in Ankara, Turkey, Aug. 10, 2014 (AP photo by Burhan Ozbilici).

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan fulfilled practically everyone’s predictions by winning the country’s first direct presidential election Sunday. But rather than putting an end to the divisive political battles that have roiled the country and the inflammatory stance that has strained Turkey’s relations with neighbors, Erdogan’s victory promises to usher in yet another era of contentious domestic and international politics. The newly elected, soon-to-be President Erdogan will start a new phase of his plan to become an even more dominant figure in Turkey’s political landscape for many more years to come. As Ian Bremmer put it on Twitter following […]

A fighter with the Islamic State group stands guard in front of the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in the Christian village of Bartella, northern Iraq, Aug. 7, 2014 (AP photo).

For Islamic extremists, particularly the most angry and violent ones, al-Qaida is yesterday’s news. From Yemen to Africa, fighters are leaving al-Qaida-affiliated groups and joining the ultra-radical and violent movement now known as the Islamic State. This gives some worrisome hints about the future of extremism in the Islamic world. The ascendance of the Islamic State, initially known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), is due in part to al-Qaida’s failures. Over the years much of the funding al-Qaida used to energize and stoke militant movements was cut off or dried up. Pummeled by the United States […]

Palestinian boys, holding Hamas flags, stand on the rubble of Aisha mosque destroyed in an Israeli strike, Gaza City, Aug. 11, 2014 (AP photo by Hatem Moussa).

With another ceasefire set to expire, Israeli and Palestinian diplomats are once more in Cairo for Egyptian-brokered talks to end the fighting in Gaza. Egypt is hardly a neutral mediator: President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s hostility toward the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoot, Hamas, is no secret; neither, for that matter, is Egypt’s close security relationship with Israel, firmly established under ousted President Hosni Mubarak. But the inner workings of that relationship are rarely exposed. That made the Wall Street Journal’s reporting last week of Israel’s close coordination withel-Sissi during its military assault on Gaza all the more revealing. The month-long conflict […]

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and King Abdullah II of Jordan embrace during a joint press conference at the National Palace in Mexico City, Feb. 6, 2014 (AP photo by Marco Ugarte).

Mexican Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Meade visited Jordan last month to discuss expanding diplomatic ties. In an email interview, Alejandra Galindo Marines, professor of social sciences at the University of Monterrey, discussed Mexico’s relations with the Middle East. WPR: Who are Mexico’s primary partners in the Middle East, and how extensive are relations? Alejandra Galindo Marines: In terms of historical ties, Mexico’s main partners are Egypt, with whom Mexico has had relations since the 19th century, and Lebanon, with whom ties were established in 1947. Both countries provided an avenue to advance Mexico’s interactions with the rest of the Middle […]

Displaced Iraqis from the Yazidi community cross the Syria-Iraq border at Feeshkhabour border point, in northern Iraq, Aug. 10, 2014 (AP photo by Khalid Mohammed).

There has been a lot of talk about humanitarian interventions over the past week, but much of it has been muddled, misleading or both. Russia has pressed for a “humanitarian mission” to the war zone in eastern Ukraine. The U.S. and its allies argue that Moscow is just using this as a pretext to invade the region. While telling Russia to back off, the Obama administration has stumbled into a new intervention of its own, launching air strikes in northern Iraq against the forces of the Islamic State, previously known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The […]

Muslim pilgrims wear surgical masks to prevent infection from the respiratory virus known as the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, May, 13, 2014 (AP photo by Hasan Jamali).

Last month, scientists discovered that the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), so far responsible for just under 300 deaths in Saudi Arabia, may spread through the air. In an email interview, Jeremy Youde, associate professor of political science at the University of Minnesota Duluth, discussed Saudi Arabia’s public health system and its response to the MERS outbreak. WPR: What is the current status of the MERS outbreak, both in Saudi Arabia and in the Gulf region more generally? Jeremy Youde: WHO has identified 837 cases of MERS and at least 291 deaths. More than 80 percent of the cases are […]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to the media after closed-door nuclear talks on Iran in Vienna, Austria, Tuesday, July 15, 2014 (AP photo by Ronald Zak).

The United States and Iran held snap bilateral talks on Thursday in Geneva as part of an effort to overcome differences that have prevented the conclusion of a final, lasting agreement on the status of Tehran’s nuclear program. Curiously, two of the three senior U.S. government representatives that participated according to the sparse State Department announcement—Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and the vice president’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan—are both expected to depart the Obama administration in a matter of months. This raised questions as to whether the Obama national security team was seeking to give the president some […]

A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter positioned behind dirt barriers along the front line with militants from the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State, Mariam Bek village, between the cities of Tikrit and Kirkuk, Iraq, June 30, 2014 (AP photo by Hussein Malla).

A Texas court is the new battleground between the Iraqi government and the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Baghdad insists that a tanker full of oil off the Texas coast, originating from the country’s Kurdish region, properly belongs to Iraq’s Ministry of Oil, and obtained a ruling to that effect from a Texas judge. On Aug. 4 the Kurdistan Regional Government filed a motion in a Texas court to lift the order. A KRG statement said that oil had been “legally produced, exported, and sold . . . in accordance with the Iraqi constitution and law.” The dispute comes amid […]

Iraqis from the Yazidi community chant anti-Islamic militants slogans in front of U.N. headquarters to ask for international protection in Irbil, Iraq, Aug. 4, 2014 (AP photo).

Last June, when Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, abruptly fell to a militia of ultra-radical Islamists barreling in from Syria, the consensus among international observers was that the stunning collapse of Iraqi forces was the result of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s disastrous policies. Maliki’s sectarian regime had undermined the Iraqi military’s unity, preparedness and willingness to fight. To be sure, Maliki’s governing approach has proved devastating for Iraq, but events of the past few days point to a much more ominous explanation. The new evidence coming from the Kurdish regions of northern Iraq suggests that Baghdad’s dismal response to the […]

Syria U.N. ambassador Bashar Ja'afari listens after a U.N. Security Council vote on referring the Syrian crisis to the International Criminal Court for investigation of possible war crimes, May 22, 2014 (AP photo by Bebeto Matthews).

Last week, a former Syrian military photographer, his identity hidden under a blue hoodie, appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee with thousands of photographs allegedly showing widespread torture and killing in Bashar al-Assad’s jails. Known as “Caesar,” the photographer defected last year with a trove of what he says is evidence of mass atrocities in Syria’s uprising-turned-civil-war: 55,000 photographs of more than 11,000 victims—many of them tagged and numbered. The photographs first came to light last January, in a report by three prominent international lawyers who previously prosecuted cases at the criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Sierra […]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confers with French President Francois Hollande during a visit to a French-Israeli technology innovation summit in Tel Aviv, Israel, Nov. 19, 2013 (AP photo by Jack Guez).

France has been in the spotlight during the Israel-Hamas war for anti-Semitic attacks that took place on the margins of marches protesting Israel’s military campaign in Gaza. But the conflict has also highlighted continuity with shifts in France’s policy toward Israel as well as its broader foreign policy alignment begun under former President Nicolas Sarkozy. President Francois Hollande’s response to the current conflict, combined with his foreign policy approach to date, suggests the shifts have achieved a bipartisan consensus in Paris, although not an uncontested one. Though an early ally of Israel and crucial partner in the development of Israel’s […]

President Barack Obama during the APEC summit in Honolulu, Hawaii, Nov. 12, 2011 (White House photo by Pete Souza).

As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry bustles around the world attempting to staunch conflict after conflict, one question arises with increasing frequency: Why bother? Kerry has certainly had a rough year. Major peace initiatives he had personally pursued, ranging from January’s Syrian peace conference in Geneva to the Israeli-Palestinian talks, have collapsed. His early efforts to defuse the Ukrainian crisis through direct talks with Russia also failed, while Israeli officials have poured scorn on his recent push for a cease-fire in Gaza. At a time when a majority of U.S. voters favor less engagement with foreign problems, Kerry’s ill-fated […]

President Barack Obama speaks about escalating sanctions against Russia in response to the crisis in Ukraine at the White House in Washington, July 16, 2014 (AP photo by Charles Dharapak).

During the years of George W. Bush’s presidency, members of the Democratic Party’s foreign policy brain trust mocked his administration’s invocation of “coalitions of the willing” as a way to legitimize U.S. action in the international arena. They even derided Bush’s efforts to find other states to endorse U.S. policy as “coalitions of the billing.” Once back in control of the Oval Office, they maintained, Democrats would be able to utilize the United Nations and leading regional organizations, starting with NATO, to generate genuine support on the part of other major countries to back U.S. initiatives. Indeed, the first years […]