Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Susan Thornton poses with South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Yoon Soon-gu during a meeting, Seoul, South Korea, April 23, 2018 (AP photo by Ahn Young-joon).

Unless you’re Rip Van Winkle, you probably already know that next month, international attention will be on the world’s two acute nuclear weapons cases: Iran and North Korea. May 12 is the deadline for U.S. President Donald Trump to decide if he will continue to waive sanctions against Iran as part of the seven-nation nuclear agreement signed in 2015. And all month long, teams in Washington and Pyongyang will be planning an unprecedented summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, with the North’s nuclear program the main item on the agenda. There are at least two ways […]

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lock hands during a group photo, Ankara, Turkey, April 4, 2018 (Pool photo  by Tolga Bozoglu via AP).

One of the more intriguing aspects of the enormously complicated war in Syria is the position of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose allegiance and convictions appear to shift with developments on the ground. Two weeks ago, Erdogan hosted a summit meeting in Ankara to discuss Syria’s future. For a photo-op, he literally joined hands with the presidents of Russia and Iran, the main backers of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Erdogan not long ago was still condemning as a “terrorist” and the roadblock to peace in Syria. It was a gesture, it seemed, that Moscow, Tehran and Ankara now […]

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis stands in front of a map of Syria and Iraq during a news conference at the Pentagon, May 19, 2017 (AP photo by Jacquelyn Martin).

Iraq has the potential to help bridge current regional divides in the Arab world and establish a functional model of equilibrium, which is why it should remain central to U.S. Middle East policy. As it approaches parliamentary elections next month, Iraq is not poised for either a major political transformation or massive security improvements. Instead, as a U.S. official who has worked on Iraq for many years has often noted to me, “Iraq is like a cancer patient, but a patient that we have some idea how to treat.” Despite that prognosis, the country should still be at the center […]

Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, the secretary-general of the Arab League, left, and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir attend a press conference at the end of the Arab summit in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, April 15, 2018 (AP photo by Amr Nabil).

The early reactions of Syria’s neighbors to the joint strikes by the United States, France and the United Kingdom on three chemical weapons-related facilities last Friday night fell into familiar patterns. As the reality of the very limited nature of the attack sinks in, expect the full range of responses, capturing the deep ambivalence in the Middle East toward American power. Most countries in the region resent excessive demonstrations of what they see as American arrogance, but they miss American force when it is not there. Some even hoped in vain that the strikes would signal a new willingness for […]

China’s ambassador to the United Nations, Ma Zhaoxu, speaks during a Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters, New York, April 13, 2018 (AP photo by Julie Jacobson).

The 105 cruise missiles that the United States, France and the United Kingdom fired at Syria late last week, in response to another suspected chemical weapons attack by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, deepened the divide between Western powers and Russia over how to approach the next stage of Syria’s war. But amid divisions playing out both at the United Nations and on the ground in Syria, China sits in a precarious and uniquely advantageous position. As an actor that strictly denounces the use of chemical weapons and upholds the principle of nonintervention, Beijing condemned both the chemical attack outside Damascus […]

Russia’s ambassador to the U.N., Vassily Nebenzia, left, watches as the ambassadors of Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States vote on a resolution at a Security Council meeting on Syria, April 14, 2018 (AP photo by Mary Altaffer).

The United Nations Security Council needs some quiet time. The past week was the most fraught in the council’s recent history, as the U.S. and its friends went all-out to shame Russia over its Syrian ally’s use of chemical weapons in Douma. The Russians responded with a furious barrage of denials, accusing the Westerners of whipping up the controversy to justify a military response. The two sides met almost daily to berate each other in baroque terms, with U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley claiming the Russians’ hands were “covered in the blood of Syrian children.” By the end of the week, […]

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Jamie Jarrard thanks Manbij Military Council commander Muhammed Abu Adeel during a visit to a small outpost near the town of Manbij, Syria, Feb. 7, 2018 (AP photo by Susannah George).

A little more than a year into his administration, President Donald Trump is facing a major decision on America’s next steps in Syria. His predecessor, Barack Obama, first sent U.S. troops into the country’s civil war to help local opposition forces defeat the self-styled Islamic State. Trump then increased the number of U.S. forces on the ground there. But now that the Islamic State has been driven back in Syria, losing much of the territory it once claimed as its “caliphate,” Trump has indicated that he might withdraw U.S. forces “very soon.” Officials in the Pentagon advocate a different approach. […]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech at a rally backdropped by maps of Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Yalova, Turkey, Dec. 16, 2017 (AP photo by Yasin Bulbul).

Earlier this month, after Israeli soldiers killed 17 Palestinians during protests near Gaza’s border with Israel, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu engaged in a war of words. Erdogan called Netanyahu a “terrorist,” while the Israeli leader responded on Twitter by saying he would not be lectured to by someone who has been “bombing civilians indiscriminately for years” in Syria. The public spat has threatened to undo a rapprochement agreement between Turkey and Israel signed in late 2016. Nearly six years ago, diplomatic ties were severed following Israel’s attack on a Turkish-flagged aid flotilla heading […]

A U.S. soldier sits on an armored vehicle on a road leading to the tense front line with Turkish-backed fighters in Manbij, northern Syria, April 4, 2018 (AP photo by Hussein Malla).

U.S. President Donald Trump has promised that Syria, Russia and Iran will pay a price for the latest use of chemical weapons against civilians in Syria’s brutal civil war. But if he does decide to carry out punitive strikes for the chemical attack in the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Douma, they will do little to satisfy advocates for a more forceful U.S. involvement on humanitarian grounds. Nor are they likely to deter future outrages, if the missile strike Trump ordered last year after a previous use of chemical weapons is any indication. More importantly, they will leave unresolved the geopolitical […]

Men work on an oil pump during a sandstorm in the desert oil fields of Sakhir, Bahrain, Jan. 8, 2015 (AP photo by Hasan Jamali).

On April 1, Bahrain announced that it had made a huge discovery of offshore oil and gas in the Persian Gulf that far exceeds its current reserves. Drilling by two U.S.-based firms confirmed that the Khaleej al-Bahrain basin may contain more than 80 billion barrels of shale oil and around 13.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. For the cash-strapped government in Manama, which has faced a mounting fiscal deficit and nagging social pressures, the news came as a major relief. While just a minor player in the oil market today, Bahrain actually gave birth to the industry on the […]

Egyptian students chant slogans during a protest against the cancellation of high school exams, Cairo, Egypt, June 27, 2016 (AP photo by Ahmed Abd El Latif).

Population growth in the Middle East has created a variety of challenges for governments, but especially how to integrate so many young people into the economy. Failing to come up with a solution could have severe ramifications, though. A baby boom in Egypt since 2011 has added 11 million people to a population that is now approaching 100 million, according to Bloomberg. With a quarter of Egyptians between the ages of 18 and 29 unemployed, and an increasing number of young people entering a labor market that is ill-equipped to absorb them, many experts are raising concerns. Egypt isn’t alone. […]

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif meets with former Pakistani adviser on foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz, Islamabad, Pakistan, March 12, 2018 (AP photo by B.K. Bangash).

In mid-March, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif traveled to Islamabad for a three-day visit, heading a 30-member Iranian delegation. During talks with Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Zarif pledged to increase bilateral trade between Iran and Pakistan from around $1.16 billion today to $5 billion by 2021. They also discussed other areas of cooperation. In an email interview, Payam Mohseni, the director of the Iran Project at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, discusses how Iran and Pakistan’s mutual desire for a deeper relationship must contend with regional rivalries. WPR: What is the […]

A Syrian boy rides his bike through the destruction of the once rebel-held Jalloum neighborhood in eastern Aleppo, Syria, Jan. 20, 2017 (AP photo by Hassan Ammar).

Carl von Clausewitz, the eminent 19th-century Prussian military theorist, believed war could best be understood as the interplay of three powerful forces: hatred, rationality that focuses hatred on political objectives, and chance. Chance made war unpredictable, but rationality, by making killing a means to an end rather than purely an act of hatred, kept it from becoming even more violent than it otherwise might be. This perspective reflected Clausewitz’s personal experience in the Napoleonic Wars. At that time, the military strategists of Europe’s great powers attempted to avoid killing civilians whenever possible, at least when fighting each other. Although the […]

An Iranian woman holds up a caricature of U.S. President Donald Trump tearing a document during a rally marking the 39th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Tehran, Iran, Feb. 11, 2018 (AP photo by Ebrahim Noroozi).

It is no small irony that the Iran nuclear deal painstakingly negotiated by the administration of Barack “No Drama” Obama has become a perfectly designed prop in the collective psychodrama otherwise known as U.S. foreign policy under President Donald Trump. Thanks to the conditions imposed by the U.S. Congress at the time of its adoption in 2015, the agreement has a built-in cliffhanger every 120 days, when the president must decide whether or not to reimpose unilateral sanctions that were only waived, not lifted, in return for the rigorous constraints placed on Iran’s nuclear program. In a little over a […]

A girl walks by a mural of Donald Trump drawn on Israel’s separation barrier Bethlehem, West Bank, March 13, 2018 (Sipa photo by Artur Widak via AP).

On March 24, a bill requiring the U.S. government to cut financial aid to the Palestinian Authority quietly passed into law as part of the omnibus spending bill signed by President Donald Trump. The new law, known as the Taylor Force Act, is the latest in a series of punitive measures taken by Washington against the Palestinians that are casting a shadow over their bilateral relationship and threatening stability in the Middle East. Ostensibly, the law is directed at a longstanding policy of the Palestinian Authority to provide financial support to the families of Palestinians killed or imprisoned by Israel. […]

A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter carrying U.S. advisers and Afghan trainees takes off at Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan, March 19, 2018 (AP photo by Rahmat Gul).

In rapid succession, America’s mercurial commander-in-chief has changed U.S. policy toward two of the world’s most tragic and intractable conflicts. In Afghanistan and Syria, President Donald Trump has simultaneously ramped up U.S. involvement and insisted that America cut its losses and get out. In both cases, it is hard to track the true underlying strategy that would achieve some durable American objectives. Rather, he is approving policy tactics formulated to respond to worsening conditions on the ground and to the advice of his military commanders, who see the larger consequences of security setbacks. First, the facts. It was late last […]