Syrian rebels from the “Al-Qasas Brigade” or “Justice Brigade” run through an olive grove to avoid Syrian Army snipers, Oct. 20, 2012 (photo by Flickr user syriafreedom licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license).

U.S. President Barack Obama’s strategy to counter the so-called Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq has three central components: pressuring the Iraqi government to change its policies that fuel support for IS and to rebuild its military; conducting U.S. airstrikes to weaken IS and prevent it from gaining an outright military victory; and training and equipping militias to fight IS on the ground, including Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syrian rebels. All of these components are shaky to one extent or another, but the third is the most precarious of all, reflecting the Obama administration’s desperate effort to balance […]

The Islamist Ennahda party holds a large rally in the Mediterranean port city of Sfax in southeast Tunisia, Oct. 2014 (Atlantic Council photo).

Tunisia’s parliamentary elections on Sunday confirm the erosion of trust over the past three years in the Islamist party Ennahda, which failed to live up to its electoral promises and implement an effective post-revolutionary political agenda after the ouster of longtime autocrat Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. Nidaa Tounes, the secular party led by Beji Caid Essebsi, an 87-year old anchor of the country’s old guard, won with 39 percent of votes, while Ennahda, which dominated the 2011 elections under the leadership of longtime dissident Rachid Ghannouchi and governed the country until ceding power to an interim government in January 2014, […]

A Tunisian woman shows her ink-stained finger after voting at a polling station in Ben Arous, Tunisia, Oct. 26, 2014 (AP photo by Aimen Zine).

Years have now passed since one could use the term “Arab Spring” without deliberate irony, or at least quotation marks. Even the sad rhetorical spinoffs from the metaphor—the cold winter, for instance, that followed the spring uprisings—have gone stale from overuse. And yet there is one country where the hopes of the once-euphoric revolutionaries did not turn out to have been misplaced. Dare we say it? Yes, the Arab Spring has bloomed; it has yielded something of a harvest in one country, the country of its birth, Tunisia, whose experience offers some hopeful lessons for a despondent Middle East. Tunisia […]

A man walks past by the al-Wefaq party’s headquarters in Manama, Bahrain, Oct. 28, 2014 (AP photo by Hasan Jamali).

On Tuesday, a court in Bahrain suspended the activities of the country’s main Shiite opposition group, al-Wefaq, ahead of next month’s parliamentary elections. The group, known in Bahrain as a political society, cannot organize rallies, issue statements or use its offices for three months. Al-Wefaq had already announced earlier this month that it would boycott the Nov. 22 poll, so the immediate impact on the election may be limited. The Ministry of Justice filed a lawsuit against al-Wefaq seeking its suspension back in July, after the government expelled Tom Malinowski, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights […]

An Iranian police officer stands behind drugs which were seized on the border with Afghanistan, June 1, 2014 (AP photo by Vahid Salemi).

Iran has long had one of the world’s biggest drug addiction problems, but the government’s attitude toward the drug war remains rife with contradiction. Iran has taken drug addiction very seriously, as evidenced both by its extensive and heavy-handed law enforcement efforts and by the resources it puts toward prevention, treatment and harm-reduction programs. However, officials have at times downplayed the extent of the problem, as politicians have sought to paint a positive picture of the state of drug addiction in Iran. In a June speech, Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said that Iran was home to 1.35 million addicts, […]

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Astrakhan, Russia, Sept. 29, 2014 (Photo from the website of the Russian president).

While Iran is normally seen as a regional power, its influence extends beyond the Middle East. In an email interview, Jeffrey Lefebvre, associate professor of political science at the University of Connecticut, discussed Iran’s relations with countries in the Horn of Africa. WPR: How extensive are Iran’s ties with countries in the Horn of Africa? Jeffrey Lefebvre: Iran has maintained “proper” diplomatic relations with Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti despite their close political and strategic ties with the United States. In particular, Camp Lemonier in Djibouti has served as a base for U.S. military forces and the launch pad for U.S. […]

This image made from an undated video shows Tarkhan Batirashvili, known as Omar al-Shishani, among a group of Islamic State fighters (AP Photo/militant social media account via AP video).

As militants from the so-called Islamic State (IS) advance across Syria and Iraq, the battlefield exploits of a 28-year-old field commander known as Omar al-Shishani—“Omar the Chechen”—have become a prominent narrative in the conflict. Born Tarkhan Batirashvili, the IS fighter is increasingly credited by observers as a superlative tactician who has overcome the group’s disadvantages in size and equipment to score a string of recent victories in Iraq. Batirashvili is an unlikely war hero for the radical Islamist brigades. Only a few years ago, after serving as a sergeant in the Georgian army during the 2008 war with Russia, Batirashvili […]

Oil pumps work at sunset in the desert oil fields of Sakhir, Bahrain, Oct. 14, 2014 (AP photo by Hasan Jamali).

Oil occupies a special place in the world of international trade and in the public lore. No other commodity carries the political, strategic and tactical power of petroleum. Since it became the world’s primary fuel less than two centuries ago, oil has played a major role in shaping world events, triggering trade embargoes and colonial wars, making and breaking political alliances and always offering a justification, real or imagined, for international conflicts. It’s hardly surprising, then, that the recent precipitous drop in global oil prices has generated a flurry of conspiracy theories. Speculation about “the real cause” behind the current […]

President Barack Obama arrives to vote early in the midterm elections, Oct. 20, 2014, Chicago, Ill. (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

Traditionally, U.S. midterm elections have been referenda on how a president has managed domestic affairs, a vote of confidence or rejection of his various policy choices. International events, however, can emerge as issues in the campaign to the extent that they indicate whether the country is moving in the right or the wrong direction. In 2006, for instance, the Bush administration’s mismanagement of the Iraq War became a factor in the recapture of both houses of Congress by the Democrats because it was put forth alongside domestic disasters—such as the handling of Hurricane Katrina—as part of an effective campaign slogan […]

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro gives a press conference at Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela, Oct. 15, 2014 (AP photo by Ariana Cubillos).

With crude oil prices down 25 percent since June and holding at roughly $86 a barrel on Tuesday, Venezuela is getting nervous. Lower prices will put greater strain on Venezuela’s oil-reliant economy as its government struggles with growing macroeconomic imbalances. Yet even with all the problems that reduced oil prices create for his administration, President Nicolas Maduro is doubling down on his current policies. By stalling in the hopes of a bailout in the form of higher oil prices or Chinese credit, instead of attempting politically unpopular restructuring, Maduro is ignoring cracks in his political and economic program. Booming commodity […]

Thick smoke and flames from an airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition rise in Kobani, Syria, as seen from a hilltop on the outskirts of Suruc, at the Turkey-Syria border, Oct. 20, 2014 (AP photo by Lefteris Pitarakis).

While the world watches the battle over the Syrian border town of Kobani in light of Turkish tensions with its Western partners in the fight against the so-called Islamic State (IS), there are significant Kurdish undercurrents that have largely escaped attention. Regardless of whether Kobani falls or Syria’s main Kurdish rebel group, the People’s Protection Unit (YPG), ultimately manages to hold the town, the resistance that Syria’s Kurds have put up for a month now against vastly superior IS forces has already become “a defining moment for nationhood and identity”for Kurds everywhere—a kind of Kurdish Alamo. As Kobani’s YPG fighters […]

Members of the U.N. investigation team take samples from the ground to test for chemicals in the Damascus countryside of Zamalka, Syria, Aug. 29, 2013 (AP Photo/Local Committee of Arbeen).

A series of recent media reports have refocused attention on chemical weapons and highlighted the threat presented by their possible use by terrorists. Stories about the so-called Islamic State (IS) seizing the remains of Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons stockpile in Iraq; the large number of abandoned chemical weapons that U.S soldiers discovered during the post-Saddam occupation of Iraq; and the continued cases of chemicals being used as weapons of war in Syria have all generated concern and alarm. But they also highlight the ways in which the international chemical weapons regime must be updated to reflect the current nature of […]

A Turkish forces soldier on an armored vehicle uses his binoculars as he patrols on the outskirts of Suruc, at the Turkey-Syria border, overlooking Kobani, Syria, Oct. 16, 2014 (AP photo by Lefteris Pitarakis).

Turkey recently announced that only Syrian refugees would be allowed to cross the border to fight against the so-called Islamic State (IS) in the besieged town of Kobani. In an email interview, Sinan Ülgen, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, discussed domestic influences on Turkey’s Syria policy. WPR: How unified is the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Turkey’s Syria policy, and how does the Turkish opposition view the AKP’s policy? Sinan Ülgen: The Turkish government’s policy on Syria has never really been popular. There are no dissenting voices within the ruling party given the strong party discipline. But […]

Chinese workers walk past the No.1 reactor at the Ningde Nuclear Power Plant in Ningde city, Fujian province, China, April 18, 2013 (Imaginechina via AP Images).

As it enters middle age, the nuclear energy industry is facing a question common at this stage of life: Does it still have exciting possibilities for growth, or are its best days behind it? Optimists who see nuclear energy as an appealing low-carbon option for combating climate change praise its stability and reliability over decades of operating experience, as well as the cheapness and reliability of uranium fuel supplies. Organizations like the International Energy Agency foresee substantial increases in nuclear-generated electricity over the next few decades, with the number of nuclear plants worldwide—currently at roughly 400—perhaps doubling or tripling. Yet, […]

Smoke rises from a fire in Kobani, Syria as seen from Mursitpinar on the outskirts of Suruc, at the Turkey-Syria border, Oct. 15, 2014 (AP photo by Lefteris Pitarakis).

Just as the United States thought it had made progress convincing Turkey to help fight the so-called Islamic State (IS)—particularly in the current battle for Kobani, the Kurdish town near Turkey’s border with Syria—Ankara came out with a rather disconcerting announcement. Turkish warplanes, officials said, had launched bombing raids, but they had struck Kurdish guerrillas in Turkey, not IS. The bombing raids against Kurdish rebels in southeastern Turkey did not directly change the balance in Kobani, but their timing was a particularly brazen defiance of international pressure. The U.S.-led effort to “degrade and destroy” IS has put a harsh spotlight […]

Fighters of the Islamic State waving the group’s flag from a damaged display of a government fighter jet following the battle for the Tabqa air base, Raqqa, Syria, photo post Aug. 27, 2014 (AP photo/ Raqqa Media Center of the Islamic State group).

The elusive unicorns wandering the forests of America’s Middle East policy are the so-called moderates who will battle the extremists on behalf of the Western world. There is a touching faith among many parts of the U.S. foreign policy establishment in the existence of these moderates, who simply require sustained U.S. support in order to step forward out of the shadows of the stagnant status quo regimes and extremist movements that dominate the region. These moderates, according to this rosy view, can already field a disciplined and effective fighting force. But better yet, they can also be trained quickly and […]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, Oct. 13, 2014, Cairo, Egypt (State Department photo).

“The New Egypt” wants New York City to know that it is open for business. Coinciding with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi’s arrival in New York last month for the U.N. General Assembly meeting, billboards appeared on the sides of buses, the roofs of buildings and a huge Nasdaq video screen in Times Square, promoting Egypt’s “Peace, Prosperity and Growth,” over a Pyramid-centered mash-up of Pharaonic temples and the Suez Canal. An Egyptian businessman whom el-Sissi had in tow reportedly paid for the campaign. Weeks later, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in Cairo for a Gaza donors’ conference, […]

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