Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reviews a military honor guard during a welcome ceremony, in Ankara, Turkey, June 22, 2022 (AP photo by Burhan Ozbilici).

U.S. President Joe Biden’s recently announced trip to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has sparked a great deal of comment and no small amount of controversy. At issue is whether a U.S. president who loudly condemned Riyadh’s human rights record during his 2020 election campaign should be instrumental in helping Saudi Arabia cast off the pariah status it has labored under since its state-sponsored murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Upon taking office, Biden talked about reorienting U.S.-Saudi relations to put greater emphasis on human rights, and he has refused to meet with the kingdom’s de facto […]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman shake hands during a welcome ceremony in Ankara, Turkey, June 22, 2022 (AP photo by Burhan Ozbilici).

Many optimists in the Middle East as well as in Washington have argued for some time that governments in the region will find new ways to embrace diplomacy and cooperate among themselves if foreign powers like the United States take a backseat and reduce their footprint in the region. In recent years, the region has seen a sustained round of diplomacy as well as conflict—two major themes that have been a frequent subject of this newsletter. The causes of conflict come from both within and outside the region. Unlike in other parts of the world where the great powers reduced […]

A supporter of the Polisario Front and Western Sahara waves a flag reading “Free Sahara,” Logrono, Spain, June 8, 2021 (AP photo by Alvaro Barrientos).

On June 8, Algeria suspended its Friendship and Neighborliness Treaty with Spain, in response to Madrid’s recent alignment with Morocco on the Western Sahara conflict. While the suspension of the treaty so far excludes contracts for gas, of which Algeria is Spain’s biggest supplier, it could jeopardize relations with the European Union. But with the change in Madrid’s position, Algeria felt it had to act to send a message, even if it comes at considerable cost. At first glance, the tensions might come as a surprise. Algeria should be riding high from the recent increase in global gas prices that […]

Then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu uses a cartoonish diagram to dramatize his claim that Iran was close to enriching enough uranium for a nuclear weapon, at the U.N. General Assembly, New York, Sept. 27, 2012 (AP photo by Richard Drew).

Reports that Iran is nearing the point where it could conceivably develop a nuclear weapon are once again causing widespread alarm. The latest information suggests that Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium, if significantly further enriched, is more than enough to provide the weapons-grade fissile material needed for a bomb. That alone wouldn’t be enough to build—or deliver—a working bomb, but it does put Tehran closer than ever to equipping one. The news comes as multilateral talks in Vienna to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal—known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA—have stalled. Iran could return to […]

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Since his sweeping overhaul of Turkey’s political system in 2017, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has cemented his near-total control over the country. Simultaneously he pursued an adventurous and bellicose foreign policy across the Mediterranean region, putting Ankara at odds with its NATO allies and the U.S. But amid regional shifts and the war in Ukraine, can Erdogan now rebuild the bridges he has burned?

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at Al Salam Palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, June 24, 2019 (AP photo by Jacquelyn Martin).

U.S. President Joe Biden’s “reset” of Washington’s approach to the Middle East increasingly looks like a continuation of the policies of his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, with an added measure of piety and evasion about what’s really driving the administration’s decision-making process. But an unwitting admission might have come last week when a White House reporter asked Biden why he changed his mind about meeting Saudi Arabia’s once-blacklisted de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, known as MBS. “The commitments from the Saudis don’t relate to anything having to do with energy,” Biden responded, despite the fact that […]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro review the honor guard, in Ankara, Turkey, June 8, 2022 (AP photo by Burhan Ozbilici).

When U.S. President Joe Biden decided not to invite Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to last week’s Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, the Venezuela leader—whose presidency was for years deemed illegitimate by the U.S, the United Kingdom, the European Union and many of Venezuela’s Latin American neighbors, among others—set out on a whirlwind international trip aiming to show he still has support in other parts of the world. One of his first stops, unsurprisingly, was Iran, another country targeted by Western sanctions, where he and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi gushed about their deepening friendship. More noteworthy was Maduro’s visit […]

Protesters chant slogans and hold placards during a protest in Istanbul, June 1, 2020.

Nine years after the Gezi Park protests erupted in Istanbul and quickly spread to many other parts of Turkey, the “culprits” behind the demonstrations were sentenced in April. Civil society leader and philanthropist Osman Kavala was convicted of having attempted to overthrow the government and sentenced to life imprisonment; seven other co-defendants received 18 years. Like many other prosecutions in Turkey these days, the Gezi case was based not on evidence, but pure conjecture. Kavala has long been a target of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government. He had already been imprisoned for four years based on spurious accusations that […]

Motorists in Iraq drive past a poster bearing the image of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, June 13, 2022.

A political earthquake is underway in Iraq, as lawmakers from Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s bloc have resigned en masse from parliament. The move is ostensibly meant to end eight months of political paralysis, amid a prolonged stalemate over forming a government following last October’s parliamentary elections. But with no clear pathway toward a breakthrough in the government-formation talks, and the expectation of mass protests on the horizon, Iraq appears to be on the verge of perhaps the greatest political uncertainty it has faced since the first post-Saddam multiparty elections in 2005. First, what happened? On Sunday, Sadr announced the resignations […]

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Former U.S. President Donald Trump upended what was once a relatively staid global economic and trade system. For all of the upheaval he created, though, Trump left office with only one clear-cut accomplishment: an updated NAFTA deal. And even as Trump sowed chaos in America’s trade relationships, most of the world reinforced its commitment to trade liberalization.

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Back in June 2011, when news began to filter out from Syria of the first signs of armed resistance against the Baathist regime of President Bashar al-Assad, few could have predicted the level of disruption to the global order that the conflict in Syria would go on to produce. After months of brutal violence against protesters inflicted by the Assad regime, local inhabitants around the town of Jisr al-Shughour in the northern province of Idlib seized a police station on June 4, triggering a major shift whose implications few observers fully understood. Two days later, armed resistance led by police […]

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While the war in Syria has receded from the international spotlight, residents in the country’s northeast are bracing for a new wave of armed conflict. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has for months threatened to launch a military invasion of the region to push back Syrian Kurdish fighters and create a buffer zone in the border area between the two countries. Turkish military deployments and diplomatic outreach to Russia suggest that a decision from Ankara to launch a military operation is likely and may even possibly be imminent. Turkey maintains its own enclave within Syrian territory, in Idlib province. But […]

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrives for a ceremony, in Ankara, Turkey on May 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

Turkey is nominally a close military and political ally of the United States and other NATO countries, as well as an important economic partner to the European Union. But reading headlines in recent months and years, one wonders how close the Turkish government really feels to its western partners. Under President Erdogan, Turkey has waged war against Kurdish allies of the United States in Syria and Iraq, and supported militias associated with al-Qaida, Hamas and other Islamic extremists. It has also developed a somewhat close relationship with Russia, even buying a Russian air defense system despite strident opposition from the […]

Forces loyal to Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, one of Libya’s two rival prime ministers, secure the streets of the capital, Tripoli, May, 17, 2022 (AP photo by Yousef Murad).

Libyans could be forgiven for feeling an uneasy sense of déjà vu in recent months. Last year many had hoped the country was finally moving on from a long struggle between rival authorities. But the Tripoli-based Government of National Unity, or GNU, that was established in 2021 as part of the United Nations-led political process has been challenged since March by a rival government appointed through a disputed parliamentary vote. Earlier this month the head of that parallel authority, Fathi Bashaga, sparked militia clashes when he tried to install himself in the capital, before ultimately being forced to leave. The […]