Houthi rebels hold up their weapons as they chant slogans at the residence of a military commander of the Houthi militant group destroyed by a Saudi-led airstrike, Sanaa, Yemen, April 28, 2015 (AP photo by Hani Mohammed).

Since the first Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen in late March, aimed at dislodging the Zaydi Shiite Houthi movement from the towns and cities they hold across the country, a number of competing and contradictory narratives have emerged. Who, exactly, is fighting whom? What are their aims? And who is winning on the ground? Thanks to sporadic coverage of the ongoing military offensive and a lack of substantive reporting from the ground, these questions have remained largely unanswered. Yet several things have become clearer. First, the bombing campaign alone will not allow the Saudis to meet their strategic goals in Yemen […]

U.S. soldiers participate in a training mission with Iraqi army soldiers outside Baghdad, Iraq, May 27, 2015 (AP photo by Khalid Mohammed).

As the conflict with the so-called Islamic State (IS) swings back and forth, one thing is increasingly clear: Even if Iraq survives the fight intact, there is no chance it will ever return to the pre-war status quo where the government in Baghdad controls the entire nation. Neither the Kurds nor Sunni Arabs will trust the Shiite-dominated central government to protect them. The newly empowered Shiite militia leaders also will cling to their autonomy from Baghdad. If Iraq holds together at all, it will have a titular national government in the capital while regional potentates actually run the place. Local […]

Israeli soldiers march during training in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, near the border with Syria, March 9, 2015 (AP photo by Ariel Schalit).

Israel and Syria have never been friends, but the two countries settled on a tense but mostly peaceful modus vivendi since their last face-to-face confrontation in the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. Despite their continuing enmity, the Israeli-Syrian border became one of relatively predictable calm. That has been true for decades, even if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad actively sided with Israel’s most committed foes, helping the likes of Hamas and Hezbollah. In the past few years, however, the region’s strategic landscape has changed drastically, particularly with regard to Syria’s ongoing civil war. For Israel, that has introduced an extremely complicated security dilemma. […]

U.S. President Barack Obama with officials from the UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Camp David, Maryland, May 14, 2015 (AP photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais).

In Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s iconic 1950 film, “Rashomon,” four people witness a crime outside the gates of Kyoto. When called on to testify in court, each has a distinctly different version of the events, and even different ideas of who the guilty party is. The Rashomon effect, as this phenomenon is often called, was in evidence this month, when reports leading up to and following the U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit earlier this month produced wildly divergent assessments, from total failure to “better than expected.” There’s a danger of imbuing too much importance to the summit itself, which is […]

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas chairs a Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee meeting, Ramallah, April 18, 2015 (AP photo by Fadi Arouri).

Earlier this month, a few days after the Holy See finalized a treaty to formally recognize Palestine as a state, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visited the Vatican, where Pope Francis set off a minor frenzy, including criticism from Israelis, by calling Abbas “an angel of peace.” It wasn’t much of a controversy, in the end, though Israel remains opposed to the Vatican’s official recognition of Palestinian statehood, which is another step in Abbas’ efforts to secure more international recognition of Palestine, even as Israel’s occupation of the West Bank appears more permanent and its blockade of Gaza continues. But Abbas’ […]

Presidents from Turkmenistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Russia at the Caspian Summit in Astrakhan, Russia, Sept. 29, 2014 (AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Presidential Press Service).

As negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 countries—the U.S., France, U.K., Germany, Russia and China—over Tehran’s nuclear program enter the home stretch before their June 30 deadline, much of the attention in Washington and the media has been focused on the U.S. need to reaffirm its commitment to its Persian Gulf allies, in order to reassure them that an Iran nuclear deal would not compromise their security. In addition, however, the United States also needs to develop a strategy for managing the likely growth of Iranian influence in Central Asia and the South Caucasus that would follow any nuclear agreement. […]

U.S. door gunners in H-21 Shawnee gunships look for a suspected Viet Cong guerrilla who ran to a foxhole from the sampan on the Mekong Delta river bank, Jan. 17, 1964 (AP photo by Horst Faas).

As Iraq devolved into insurgency in 2004, the Washington policy community was filled with ominous warnings of “another Vietnam.” The war in Vietnam was, after all, America’s benchmark for counterinsurgency and hung like a dark cloud over every debate on U.S. national security policy during the height of the Iraq War. But it soon seemed that the Vietnam analogy did not apply to Iraq. After a careful assessment, Jeffrey Record and Andrew Terrill, both widely published national security experts, concluded as early as May 2004 that “the differences between the two conflicts greatly outnumber the similarities.” Soon references to Vietnam […]

U.S. Army soldiers stroll past two bronze busts of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein in the Green Zone in Baghdad, March 20, 2009 (AP photo by Hadi Mizban).

More than 12 years after the United States and its coalition partners invaded Iraq, it seems we’re no closer to learning the lessons of what may be the most ill-conceived war in American history. Case in point: the current debate playing out on the U.S. presidential campaign trail over whether it was a good idea for the U.S. to invade Iraq in 2003. Recently, U.S. politicians—primarily Republicans—have been twisting themselves into knots trying to rationalize then-President George W. Bush’s decision to go to war. “Based on what we know now” about Iraq’s lack of weapons of mass destruction, they argue, […]

French President Francois Hollande with leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council before the opening of its summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, May 5, 2015 (AP photo by Christophe Ena).

French President Francois Hollande made a triumphal visit to the oil- and gas-rich kingdoms of the Persian Gulf earlier this month, touching down in Qatar to oversee the signing of a contract for the sale of 24 Rafale fighter jets, then continuing on to Saudi Arabia to attend the Gulf Cooperation Council Summit as the guest of honor, a first for a Western head of state. Hollande’s Gulf tour was in part the product of shrewd French diplomacy, which took advantage of Arab displeasure at current U.S. policies in the region, most of all a framework agreement with Iran on […]

Smoke rises after a Saudi-led airstrike hit a site believed to be one of the largest weapons depot on the outskirts of Sanaa, Yemen, May 19, 2015 (AP photo by Hani Mohammed).

Last week’s cease-fire in Yemen proved as shaky as many expected, and after it promptly expired Sunday evening, Saudi airstrikes resumed across the country, targeting Houthi rebels as well as forces loyal to ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The five-day “humanitarian pause” in fighting coincided with the visit to the United States by the architects of Saudi Arabia’s war on Houthi rebels in Yemen—the recently elevated Crown Prince Mohamed bin Nayef and Deputy Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman. Both were at Camp David last week for a summit with fellow Gulf Cooperation Council leaders and U.S. President Barack Obama. The […]

Demonstrators chant pro-Islamic State group slogans as they wave the group’s flags in front of the provincial government headquarters, Mosul, Iraq, June 16, 2014 (AP photo).

In seeking to explain the recruiting success of the so-called Islamic State (IS), Western analysts tend to view the group through the lens of its most provocative acts: staged executions, destruction of heritage sites and calls to bring about the “End of Days.” Yet while its Western enemies are preoccupied parsing the allure of its spectacular savagery and zealous apocalyptic ideology, IS is carefully cultivating a parallel appeal to its core Arab constituency, not through shock and awe but through routine and accomplishment. The brand that IS media most regularly markets to inhabitants of IS-controlled territory and supporters is that […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Moscow, Russia, May 10, 2015 (Official Kremlin photo).

Vladimir Putin has a busy social schedule these days. The Russian president looked a little isolated on May 9, when world leaders largely stayed away from the immense military parade he organized in Moscow to commemorate the end of World War II. But Chinese President Xi Jinping was among the few who did attend, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel went to Moscow for talks one day after the celebrations. Putin has had little time to recover from his big party. Last week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited him in Sochi to talk about Ukraine and Syria. Washington followed […]

The tanker “Foscari” arrives in port carrying 562 immigrants, Naples, Italy, May 6, 2015 (Photo by Alessio Paduano/NurPhoto, Sipa via AP Images).

The recent spike in the numbers of migrants trying to reach Europe’s Mediterranean shores, accompanied by media images of fatal capsizings and other tragic scenes of human suffering, has reminded people of the moral as well as the humanitarian and political dimensions of the issue. This week, in response to months of urgent appeals, the European Union drafted recommendations for a quota system to distribute asylum-seekers and other migrants across the EU, to relieve some of the burden on the southern European states of Italy, Malta and Greece. But the debate over these migrants remains divisive and passionate. World media […]

U.S. President Barack Obama greets Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Washington, May 13, 2015 (AP photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta).

Among the many challenges facing President Barack Obama and U.S. officials meeting with Gulf Arab leaders this week, one has abruptly climbed to near the top of the agenda: taking the measure of the rising star of the Saudi firmament, King Salman’s son Prince Mohammed bin Salman. When the delegates from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)—which comprises Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman—gather at the presidential retreat of Camp David for the already troubled summit, U.S. officials will channel a significant portion of their energy toward Prince Mohammed. They will be hoping to develop ties […]

A worker rides a bicycle in front of the reactor building of the Bushehr nuclear power plant, outside the southern city of Bushehr, Iran, Oct. 26, 2010 (AP Photo/Mehr News Agency, Majid Asgaripour).

In the run-up to the June 30 deadline for a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran, alarmists in Washington, Tel Aviv and elsewhere are again warning of an imminent race to nuclear weapons capabilities in the Middle East—one that will occur in the guise of peaceful nuclear programs, as countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey all rush to construct their first nuclear power plants. But the logic of chain-reaction proliferation in the Middle East is critically flawed. Equally flawed are assumptions that the region’s nuclear power aspirants are anywhere near having operational programs. Ambitious rhetoric aside, including Saudi Arabia’s […]

Senegalese soldiers practice live fire maneuvers during a training exercise in support of Exercise Western Accord 14, June 19, 2014 (U.S. Army Africa photo by Staff Sgt. Donna Davis).

Earlier this month, Senegal’s foreign minister announced that the country was sending 2,100 troops to Saudi Arabia to participate in the coalition against Houthi rebels in Yemen. In an email interview, Alex Thurston, a visiting associate professor at Georgetown University, discussed Senegal-Saudi ties. WPR: How extensive are bilateral ties between Senegal and Saudi Arabia, and what has been their trajectory in recent years? Alex Thurston: Senegal and Saudi Arabia established diplomatic relations in 1961, following Senegal’s independence the previous year. The bilateral relationship has been strong. Senegal joined the Saudi-backed Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in 1969, the year of […]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry listens as President Barack Obama addresses a Central American Integration System Heads of State Meeting on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas, Panama City, Panama, April 10, 2015 (State Department photo).

It’s kind of a tough week to start a new column on U.S. foreign policy. There’s just not much going on these days. The Iran nuclear debate has moved to the back burner as the P5+1 and Tehran try to hammer out the final details of a nuclear pact. The U.S. war against the so-called Islamic State (IS) is continuing apace, but with no horrifying images of American journalists being beheaded, it’s an issue that has largely fallen off the front pages. For about two days people were once again talking about drones and targeted killings, after an American unmanned […]

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