French forces patrol in the desert of northern Mali along the border with Niger on the outskirts of Asongo, Mali, June 24, 2015 (AP photo/Maeva Bambuck).

With increasing violence and insecurity in all parts of the country, a government that has elevated political disillusionment to an art form and an international community unable to effect change on the ground, Mali is quickly becoming West Africa’s basket case. Despite continued international military commitments and a recent peace treaty between the government and northern rebels, the situation looks bleak. Mali is currently facing two distinct but connected types of violence: a political conflict over the status of the northern part of the country that is taking on intra-communal dimensions; and a rising tide of jihadi terrorism, committed by […]

This file photo, released on May 17, 2015 by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows the general view of the ancient Roman city of Palmyra, Syria (SANA via AP).

On Sunday the self-proclaimed Islamic State reportedly detonated a huge explosive at the 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, though the extent of the damage has yet to be confirmed. The partial destruction of the massive, Roman-era complex, which UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency, has called one of the most important religious buildings of the first century A.D., follows a series of dark weeks for a historical site known affectionately to Syrians as the Bride of the Desert. Just last week, Islamic State militants blew up the smaller Temple of Baalshamin, releasing propaganda images […]

In a photo released on May 4, 2015 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, Islamic State militants pass by a convoy, Tel Abyad, northeast Syria (Militant website via AP).

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part column on the Islamic State’s use of extreme brutality as part of its strategy. Part I looks at the roots and intended effects of that brutality. Part II will examine whether extreme brutality is sustainable or will be the group’s downfall, and what that means for the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State. Brutality is a defining characteristic of the so-called Islamic State. While history is littered with violent organizations, few have made it so integral to their strategy and identity. The Islamic State has become “synonymous with viciousness,” as Fawaz […]

Fighters from the Islamic State parade in a commandeered Iraqi security forces armored vehicle down a main road at the northern city of Mosul, Iraq, June 23, 2014 (AP photo).

Earlier this month, during a campaign stop in Ottawa ahead of October’s federal elections, incumbent Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper proposed new legislation to prohibit travel to terrorism hot spots like Iraq and Syria. “A re-elected Conservative government will designate travel to places that are ground zero for terrorist activity a criminal offense,” Harper said. This is not a new idea. Australia has already enacted a similar measure this year, listing parts of Iraq and Syria as no-travel zones. Individuals caught violating the law face 10 years in prison. Exemptions exist for journalists, representatives of national governments and the United […]

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks at the Reagan Presidential Library, Simi Valley, Calif., Aug. 11, 2015 (AP photo by Kevork Djansezian).

Earlier this month, Jeb Bush gave a major foreign policy speech focusing on U.S strategy in the Middle East. It offered a compelling lesson in the pitfalls of a politician named Bush talking about Iraq. In the speech, Bush blamed the current instability in Iraq on the Obama administration and in particular former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He suggested the White House had squandered the hard-earned gains from the 2007 surge in Iraq, which he argued could be successfully replicated in Syria. Beyond a rather blatant effort to rewrite history, Bush’s speech was a stark reminder that many of […]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting, Jerusalem, Aug. 2, 2015 (Gali Tibbon/Pool Photo via AP).

Barring extraordinary circumstances, next month U.S. President Barack Obama will successfully sustain a veto of a congressional resolution against the nuclear agreement between six world powers and Iran, and the deal will be sealed. But in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s opposition to the agreement continues unabated. What he expects to achieve by fighting the deal to the bitter end is still a mystery. It is, however, already abundantly clear that considerable work is needed to repair the U.S.-Israel bilateral relationship, which has been frayed by the negotiations with Iran and Netanyahu’s attempts to derail them. Despite those strains, Israel […]

Egyptian protesters call for the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, July 3, 2013 (AFP photo by Gianluigi Guercia).

Once set aside as artifacts of history, scholars and policymakers have vigorously returned their attention to coups d’état. This shift is clearly warranted, as recent coups in places like Honduras, Egypt and Thailand have broad ramifications for trade relationships, security and the growth of democracy. Unfortunately, we are largely playing catch-up in a fast-paced game. We know a fair amount about what causes coups—weak economies, illegitimate governance, past histories of coups, domestic protests—but far less about what transpires after a coup comes about. Following the end of the Cold War, the conventional wisdom that coups are bad for democracy ushered […]

Shopping in the Toi Market, Nairobi, Kenya, May 7, 2015 (Flickr photo by ninara licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license).

More than five years in the making, the ambitious African trade agreement known as the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA), officially launched in June, aims to bring together three key African trading blocs—the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the East African Community (EAC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA)—to create a common market spanning the continent from Cairo to Cape Town. With a huge free trade zone encompassing a region of more than 626 million people and a total gross domestic product of $1.2 trillion—equivalent to 58 percent of the continent’s entire GDP—the deal hopes to […]

Protesters chant in support of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi as they carry national flags during a demonstration in Tahrir Square, Baghdad, Iraq, Aug. 21, 2015 (AP photo by Karim Kadim).

For months, the critical issue for Iraq has been its capacity to win back territory in its western provinces controlled by the so-called Islamic State (IS). The focus abroad has been on building an international coalition to support Iraqi forces; enabling various Kurdish militias to do their part in the war against IS; and strengthening Iraqi resolve, particularly among Sunnis, to see the IS threat in all its dimensions and reinvigorate Iraq’s national capacity and purpose. But in Baghdad, other dynamics are in play. Earlier this month, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi followed through on pledges to take on corruption and […]

U.N. Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria Staffan de Mistura listens during a United Nations Security Council meeting on Syria, New York, July 29, 2015 (AP photo by Bebeto Matthews).

Peacemaking is a repetitive business. Mediators and diplomats handling protracted conflicts rarely come up with entirely new ways to end them. They frequently revise and repackage previous peace plans, hoping that they will gain more traction than they have in the past. The U.N. Security Council did just that last week, recycling old proposals to end the Syrian war and selling the initiative as a minor breakthrough. Last Monday, the Security Council’s members agreed on a statement calling for a “Syrian-led political process leading to a political transition,” potentially involving “the establishment of an inclusive transitional governing body with full […]

French police officers patrol the Gare du Nord train station, Paris, France, Aug. 22, 2015 (AP photo by Binta).

Four men, including three Americans on vacation, tackled and disarmed a man who opened fire with an AK-47 on a high-speed train traveling between Amsterdam and Paris on Friday. On Monday French President Francois Hollande awarded the men the Legion of Honor at a ceremony in Paris. French authorities are treating the attack as the act of a radical Islamist. The suspect, Moroccan national Ayoub El-Khazzani, has denied that he intended to commit an act of terrorism and told French authorities he found the AK-47 and other weapons in a bag abandoned in a park in Brussels. His lawyer claims […]

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stands with German Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, center, at his office in Tehran, Iran, July 20, 2015 (AP photo/Ebrahim Noroozi).

Over the last two years, the notion that the impasse over Iran’s nuclear program could be solved has gone from being a theoretical possibility to becoming a reality, with the landmark agreement between Tehran and six world powers. The potential lifting of Western economic sanctions on Iran has, in turn, quickly boosted interest in the Iranian economy, especially in Europe, which sees a market re-emerging with significant potential, ready for international investments, technology and goods. But in a somewhat contradictory way, the Iranian economy has both been underestimated during the last five years of sanctions, and now runs the risk […]

The CIA Original Headquarters Building at Langley, Virginia (CIA photo).

The summer’s headlines—from how to verify the Iran deal to combating the self-declared Islamic State to, most recently, new revelations about the National Security Agency (NSA) and the telecom giant AT&T—all have something in common: the role of intelligence in keeping the United States safe. For better or worse, since the release of diplomatic cables from Wikileaks and classified NSA documents from former government contractor Edward Snowden, the American public has a deeper understanding of at least some of the ways that intelligence contributes to U.S. national security. The NSA documents were the source of The New York Times’ recent […]

Fighters against Shiite Houthi rebels stand on their armored vehicles on a road leading to Al-Anad base near Aden in the southern province of Lahej, Yemen, Aug. 3, 2015 (AP photo by Wael Qubady).

Soon after the initial shock of Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen against Houthi rebels and military units loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh had subsided, an important question arose. Would Riyadh, reorienting itself as an aggressive regional military force to be reckoned with—and no longer willing to ride on the coattails of the United States—put boots on the ground in Yemen? The new Saudi monarch, King Salman, and his son Mohammed bin Salman, the young defense minister and deputy crown prince, signaled their willingness to send troops into Yemen—just not their own. But they had trouble enlisting help […]

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe holds a wreath during a ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the Nagasaki atomic bombing, Nagasaki, southern Japan Sunday, Aug. 9, 2015 (AP photo by Eugene Hoshiko).

Almost 70 years to the day after the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and four and a half years after suspending its entire nuclear energy program, Japan restarted a nuclear reactor today, the first to operate under new safety requirements adopted in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster. While the news is noteworthy in and of itself, Japan’s historical approach to its civil nuclear program, as well as to nuclear weapons in particular, is especially instructive in light of the Iran nuclear deal. Many observers have suggested over the years that Iran could well aspire to the so-called Japan […]

The United Nations Security Council unanimously adopts a resolution creating a Joint Investigative Mechanism to identify those responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Syria, New York, Aug. 7, 2015 (U.N. photo by Eskinder Debebe).

The United Nations was famously founded to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” It has a distinctly mixed track record on this front. Today, the U.N.’s goal often seems to be best described as making the scourge of war a little bit less dreadful. The Security Council demonstrated this tendency last Friday, when it endorsed an American-backed resolution launching a new panel to investigate the use of chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war. The panel, which will involve the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), is empowered to identify those responsible for dropping […]

A Lebanese woman covers her nose from the smell as she walks on a street partly blocked by piles of garbage, Beirut, Lebanon, July 27, 2015 (AP photo by Hassan Ammar).

It is not every day that a population gets to experience the failings of government quite so pungently. Beirut, the cosmopolitan capital of Lebanon, has been choking in garbage. A brief respite due to a partial temporary solution will soon come to an end, and authorities are warning of grave health consequences if rotting refuse and garbage fires start choking the city again. But Beirut’s garbage crisis looms as much more than a health, welfare or infrastructure matter. More than anything, it is an unmistakable, asphyxiating metaphor for the country’s precarious political situation. And it may become the most unlikely […]

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