Libyan children wave national flags as they look out over Tahrir Square, during the second anniversary of the uprising that toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, Benghazi, Libya, Feb, 17, 2013 (AP photo by Mohammad Hannon).

Libya is a mess and rapidly getting worse. It is a “failed state ravaged by civil war, and a magnet for al-Qaida and Islamic State (IS) recruits,” as Christopher Chivvis put it— “Somalia on the Mediterranean.” The principle victims are Libyans themselves. After suffering through decades of Moammar Gadhafi’s dictatorship, they now face a future that is, in many ways, even worse. But the danger spreads outward. Gadhafi’s weapons have been used to arm extremists across Africa, dragging other nations like Mali toward the abyss. Libya probably has more IS fighters than any place outside Syria, and they now threaten […]

Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz at King Khalid International Airport, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Jan. 27, 2015 (AP photo by Carolyn Kaster).

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates—One month has passed since King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud ascended to the throne to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, taking the reins of a country that is a pivotal player in the Middle East, the Muslim world, international energy markets and the global economy. He took power at a moment of turbulence and potentially lasting, dramatic change. Understanding precisely how he will steer his country is a matter of great interest here in the Arabian Peninsula and around the globe. From the moment he became Saudi Arabia’s reigning monarch, Salman announced his guiding principle would […]

A Libyan soldier wakes his comrade in Al Ajaylat, 75 miles west of Tripoli, Libya, Feb. 21, 2015 (AP photo by Mohamed Ben Khalifa).

Four years after the revolution began to overthrow Moammar Gadhafi’s regime with NATO’s help, and amid a worsening civil war, Libya today faces a new and very real threat: militants affiliated with the self-declared Islamic State (IS). Even though Libya has no religious divisions that IS can exploit to establish a foothold, the country’s ongoing political crisis, armed conflict and security vacuum provide a fertile environment for IS to expand its influence to Europe’s doorstep. The Islamic State’s senior leadership in Libya is made up of foreign fighters from Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, who were dispatched to Libya by […]

The entrance to Camp 5 and Camp 6 at the U.S. military’s Guantanamo Bay detention center, which President Barack Obama has pledged to close amid opposition in Congress, Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba, June 7, 2014 (AP photo by Ben Fox).

When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, there were 680 prisoners being held in the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Today, there are 122. As The Associated Press has reported, that is “less than half the number when [U.S. President Barack] Obama took office, and the fewest since 10 days after the U.S. began shipping al-Qaida and Taliban fighters, shackled and clad in orange jumpsuits, to the base on Jan. 11, 2002.” A slow trickle of prisoner releases has steadily picked up over the last year and a half, and especially in recent months, as part of a policy […]

Honor guards stand at the Pentagon Memorial on the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks at the Pentagon, Arlington, VA, Sept. 11, 2011 (AP photo by Charles Dharapak).

For almost a decade now, since the publication of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s brilliant, discursive rumination “The Black Swan,” conventional wisdom has held that the biggest threats to strategy—in national security as well as areas like finance—come from sudden and unexpected events. A black swan, as Taleb named such an event, is at its core both a shock and a surprise. It is an “outlier,” Taleb writes, “as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility.” He goes on to claim that such events are the engines of history. “A […]

Libyan soldiers take a break from fighting with militants on the frontline in Al Ajaylat, 75 miles west of Tripoli, Libya, Feb. 21, 2015 (AP photo by Mohamed Ben Khalifa).

Just how bad is Europe’s strategic situation? Over the past week, senior European politicians and officials have piled up dire predictions about the continent’s security. Italy’s foreign minister called for a United Nations peacekeeping force to halt Libya’s collapse into violence “before it’s too late.” The French defense minister attacked other European Union states for failing to do enough against terrorist groups in Africa. NATO’s deputy military commander warned that Russian forces could launch an assault aimed at seizing territory from an alliance member similar to its operations in Ukraine, sparking an “existential”—meaning nuclear—war. This all sounds rather like panic. […]

Shiite militia fighters sing anti-Islamic State group songs on the frontline near Kirkuk, Iraq, Feb. 15, 2015 (AP photo by Emad Matti).

Iraq is an artificial creation cobbled together from provinces of the old Ottoman Empire by outsiders. The ethnic groups and religious sects that live there were not always mortal enemies, but there was an undercurrent of enmity among them that turned malignant when Saddam Hussein imposed a murderous domination by his group, the Sunni Arabs. When the United States waded into Iraq, it hoped that this precarious political entity could hang on in part as a barrier to Iran. After the removal of Saddam in 2003, Washington encouraged Baghdad to develop an inclusive government balancing the interests of its component […]

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi makes a statement after militants in Libya affiliated with the Islamic State released a grisly video showing the beheading of several Egyptian Coptic Christians, Feb. 16, 2015 (AP Photo/Egyptian Presidency).

Days after ordering airstrikes on targets of the so-called Islamic State (IS) in eastern Libya, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi may be in hot water with his Gulf Arab patrons—not over the strikes, but for comments made in their aftermath by an Egyptian official at the Arab League. On Thursday, the secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) backed Qatar’s decision to withdraw its ambassador from Cairo after Egypt’s representative to the Arab League accused Doha of supporting “terrorism” in Libya. The accusation came during an Arab League debate on Egypt’s actions in Libya; Qatar’s representative had apparently raised some reservations. […]

Egyptians, mostly Christians, during a protest against the Islamic State for the execution of Egyptian Coptic Christians, Cairo, Egypt, Feb. 16, 2015 (AP photo by Amr Nabil).

The latest installment of horror delivered by the propaganda machine of the so-called Islamic State (IS) confirmed one of the terrorist group’s principal strategies, the evidence of which has been gradually emerging as IS captures territory, seizes hostages and carries out barbaric acts that are promptly disseminated for publicity purposes. A video released Sunday showed the execution of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians captured by IS members in Libya over the past few months. The Egyptians appear marching single-file on the beach, wearing the familiar orange jumpsuits worn by hostages in previous IS videos, as their captors lead them to their […]

NATO headquarters, Brussels, Belgium, Jan. 8, 2015 (NATO photo).

This past weekend, militants in Libya aligned with the so-called Islamic State (IS) brutally executed 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians they had captured. As the victims’ blood flowed into the Mediterranean Sea, their executioner declared, “We will conquer Rome, by Allah’s permission.” Even as most of Europe’s attention remains focused on the east and the fighting in Ukraine, the horrific murders highlight the threat the continent faces to the south. They also serve as yet another reminder, if one were necessary, that the operation to depose former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, once praised as a successful example of the responsibility to […]

Protesters confront police during a demonstration calling for a boycott of presidential elections, Bejaia, Algeria, April 5, 2014 (AP photo by Sidali Djarboub).

In its more than 50 years of independence since the end of French colonialism, Algeria has seen a failed experiment with socialist economic development, taken stabs at halfhearted economic and political liberalizations and defeated a bloody Islamist rebellion against the state. Yet today, the country still faces important challenges, including social transformations, economic uncertainty despite oil and gas wealth, and a worrisome political sclerosis. All of these challenges might become exacerbated by a pending leadership succession whose smoothness is far from guaranteed. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika may not complete his fourth term due to poor health associated with a stomach ailment […]

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, Sen. Jack Reed and Sen. James Inhofe prepare to vote on the nomination of Ashton Carter to be the Pentagon chief, Feb. 10, 2015, Washington (AP photo by J. Scott Applewhite).

When Americans think of civil-military relations, what jumps to mind is the interaction of the armed services and the executive branch of government. This relationship is central to American democracy, but also relatively straightforward. The Constitution makes the president the commander-in-chief of the military, and commissioned officers serve “at the pleasure of the president.” Officers follow the president’s orders or are fired. Yet as Mackubin Thomas Owens points out, “Those who neglect the congressional role in American civil-military relations are missing an important element.” In many ways, this is a more complicated relationship, since it lacks the clear chain of […]

Jordanian King Abdullah II talks with Safi al-Kaseasbeh, father of slain Jordanian pilot Lt. Moaz al-Kassasbeh, Karak, Jordan, Feb. 5, 2015 (AP photo by Nasser Nasser).

The picture blew across the Internet like a hot wind in the desert. It showed King Abdullah II of Jordan wearing combat fatigues, staring deeply into the camera, his chest cinched with parachute straps, his hands clad in black gloves, barely resisting the impulse to clench into fists. In the viral aftermath of the posting on the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan’s official Facebook page, the rumor spread that the king was personally flying combat missions against the so-called Islamic State (IS). The palace denied it, but social media users refused to believe the fabrication and continued repeating the claim: After […]

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi bids farewell to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Cairo International Airport in Egypt, Feb. 10, 2015 (photo from the Presidential Press and Information Office).

It has been a busy week for Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. On Monday, he had to apologize to his Gulf Arab patrons for a leaked audio recording, purportedly of him and two of his generals mocking the oil-rich monarchies and scheming how to squeeze them for billions. “Man, they have money like rice,” says a man identified as el-Sissi on the alleged recording, which revealed more than just the scorn Egypt’s junta has for its foreign backers and for everyday Egyptians. As the Egyptian blogger known as Baheyya wrote, in the “frank, relaxed banter,” Egypt’s current ruler and two of […]

An Egyptian looks at a vehicle lit on fire during a riot outside the Air Defense Stadium in a suburb east of Cairo, Egypt, Feb. 8, 2015 (AP photo by Ahmed Abd El-Gwad, El Shorouk Newspaper).

Deadly clashes this week at a Cairo stadium between soccer fans and riot police point once again to the malignancy of police violence in Egypt, which helped spark the protests that toppled longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak exactly four years ago today. The issues of accountability with Egypt’s police have evolved over the course of the tumultuous post-Mubarak years. But the historic and transformational openings of early 2011 were squandered, and now the possibilities for security sector reform are as distant as ever, perhaps even more so. In the days before the uprising of January 2011, skirmishes between soccer fans and […]

A U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle aircraft flies over northern Iraq after conducting airstrikes in Syria, Sept. 23, 2014 (DoD photo by Senior Airman Matthew Bruch, U.S. Air Force).

From the moment the United States took on the so-called Islamic State (IS), whether or not to use ground forces has been one of the most contentious issues. Deeply aware of the lingering national hangover from Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S. President Barack Obama stated that American ground forces “will not have a combat mission,” and will only assist the local forces fighting the extremists. While this makes political sense, it may not be effective strategy. Airstrikes by the U.S. and other nations have put a damper on the mobility of IS, but cannot defeat it outright. In fact, the organization […]

A Syrian Kurdish sniper sits among the rubble in Kobani, Syria, Jan. 30, 2015 (AP photo).

“The media refused to see the Syrian revolt as anything other than the continuation of revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, at a time of enthusiasm over the Arab Spring. Journalists didn’t understand the sectarian subtleties in Syria, or perhaps they didn’t want to understand.” That was Fabrice Balanche, a leading French scholar of Syria who specializes in political geography, in an eye-opening interview with the Carnegie Endowment’s Aron Lund last Friday. Balanche’s research mapping Syria’s uprising-turned-civil-war is mostly in French, as Lund noted, and so has only recently entered into English-language Syria analysis, which should be all the better for […]

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