Parliamentary elections held Sept. 21 in the autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq further cemented the undisputed leadership of the regional government’s president, Massoud Barzani. Reigning supreme in Iraqi Kurdistan, dominating the political scene in Iraq and enjoying his status as a major Western go-between in Syria, Barzani has become a key political figure to watch in the Middle East this year. The official results are not out, but early exit polls point to a sound victory for Barzani’s ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in the voting. They also indicate that the KDP’s coalition partner, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), […]

HASAKAH GOVERNORATE, Syria — The little Kurdish fighting position looks far more professional than what is usually seen in Syria. Instead of just a pile of sand for protection, it has proper fighting and communications trenches, sandbags and even a small tower at the far end for the machine gunner. Discipline is what distinguishes the People’s Protection Units (YPG) from the mainly Arab rebel groups the Kurdish militia is fighting in northeastern Syria. Traveling across Syria’s Kurdish-majority northeast, one is struck by the difference between the areas controlled by the YPG and its political master, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), […]

The Afghan government and its international supporters have long viewed the estimated $1 trillion to $3 trillion worth of natural resources thought to lie beneath Afghanistan’s rugged landscape as being among the country’s best prospects for economic independence. But hopes of developing Afghanistan’s extravagant array of natural resources—including world class deposits of iron, gold, copper, lithium and lucrative rare earth metals—are in serious jeopardy. Wavering international investors, Afghanistan’s unresolved and contested new draft law concerning resource extraction and the political uncertainty associated with next year’s presidential elections and substantial NATO drawdown risk dashing efforts to transform Afghanistan into an economically […]

Brazil and the United States have long had a relationship unlike others in the Western Hemisphere. Despite some obvious similarities and important common interests, Brasilia and Washington have not traditionally shared the same worldview—perhaps they never will. As a result, policymakers are frequently left searching for an elusive equilibrium in the relationship, and casual observers can be taken by surprise when events, such as the revelations of U.S. intelligence gathering activities in Brazil, occur that highlight both the promise and also the fragility of the bilateral partnership. Brazil is clearly a nation on the rise. Its strong democracy makes it […]

The decades-long relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia has faced major challenges since the start of the Middle East upheavals in 2011. The past few months have produced new tactical strains in the bilateral relationship: Ongoing political changes in Egypt, Syria’s civil war and the possibility of new attempts at diplomatic engagement with Iran have all brought to the surface divisions between Washington and Riyadh. The United States and Saudi Arabia continue to share several common strategic interests, including regional security cooperation in dealing with threats from Iran and al-Qaida affiliates, but how the two countries work together […]

Since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) took power in 2002, Turkey has been reorienting its foreign policy toward increasing Ankara’s weight within the perimeter of the former Ottoman Empire through a combination of economic policy, diplomacy and an emphasis on historical and cultural ties. Dubbed neo-Ottomanism, this approach represents a departure from the strictly NATO-oriented vision Turkey followed in the 20th century, and Turkey has pursued it even more actively since Ahmet Davutoglu, the academic who elaborated the concept, was appointed foreign minister in 2009. In addition to Central Asia and the Persian Gulf, the Balkans are a key […]

In the weeks since British Prime Minister David Cameron lost a parliamentary vote that would have authorized the use of force in Syria, commentators have breathlessly debated whether the crisis over the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons has heralded a significant shift in Western security relationships. Some have been moved to claim that, as a consequence of the vote, Paris is gradually replacing London as Washington’s European security partner of choice. While certainly providing food for thought in both the U.K. and France, such claims are profoundly misleading. Insofar as the United States chooses to work with its European […]

A state of emergency in place, curfews that begin at 7 p.m. on Fridays, army tanks in the streets, Islamists either dead or in prison, Egypt’s aging former dictator Hosni Mubarak out of jail, a rise in Islamist militant attacks against security targets and the intimidation of journalists and human rights workers: These are some of the developments since June 30 that have left some wondering whether, two and a half years after the uprising that brought Mubarak down, Egypt is in fact going through a counterrevolution. On July 3, three days after millions took to the streets calling for […]

Iran’s new president, Hasan Rouhani, is scheduled to address the U.N. General Assembly Tuesday and plans to use the occasion to reach out to world leaders about restarting talks on Iran’s controversial nuclear program. As U.S. President Barack Obama and his administration consider how they should react to the friendlier diplomatic face put forward by Rouhani and his team, they will need to contend with five popular myths about U.S. policy toward Iran’s nuclear program. 1. It’s Iraq all over again. No. For anti-war activists, simply invoking the Iraq War is an easy way to avoid making a fresh judgment […]

An exchange of gunfire and rockets over the Central African Republic’s northwestern border with Cameroon has heightened fears that the troubled African nation could fall back into full-blown conflict. In recent days, fighting between the Seleka rebel alliance and militias loyal to ousted President Francois Bozize have put towns and rural settlements in northwestern Ouham prefecture under siege. More than 100 civilians have been killed in the clashes; whole villages have been burned to the ground; and thousands have been displaced from their homes by the fighting. At the epicenter of the violence are the river towns of Bossangoa and […]

In 2011, Algeria had serious misgivings about international intervention in Libya, which Algiers feared would result in many unintended consequences, few of them good for Algeria or the region. Those misgivings have since proven correct. Libya itself has collapsed into violent chaos, while weapons flows out of Libya in 2011 and 2012 fueled a Salafi jihadi insurgency in northern Mali that eventually resulted in Bamako losing control of the entire northern half of the country. And in Tunisia, a new Salafi jihadi threat has emerged on Algeria’s borders. Although Algeria initially stuck fast to its long-standing principle of noninterference, its […]

Despite India’s graduation from outlier to tepidly accepted member of the global nuclear order, one area of New Delhi’s nuclear activities continues to raise alarm: its undersea nuclear deterrent. India unveiled its first nuclear submarine, the INS Arihant, in July 2009. Though the ship was largely indigenous, Russia helped in designing the miniaturized nuclear reactor. Just last month, the nuclear reactor in INS Arihant went critical, clearing the way for its final operational trials in the Bay of Bengal. India has designs to produce four to five nuclear submarines by the end of this decade. When integrated with nuclear-tipped sea-launched […]

Last week the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif completed its first 100 days in office. The elections in May, though marred by rigging and irregularities, made history as Pakistan’s first democratic transition. But if Pakistanis were jubilant about this milestone at the time, their joy had faded by the time of my visit last month. Sharif campaigned on five major promises: that he would set the economy on track, end energy shortages in three years, end U.S. drone strikes on Pakistani territory, tackle terrorism and pursue positive relations with neighbors. In pre-election polls, 81 percent […]

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party are in a buoyant mood. Their resounding victory in July’s presidential and parliamentary elections, by means both fair and foul, releases them from an inconvenient four-year power-sharing arrangement with their rivals, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). They can now resume sole responsibility for mismanaging the country. The election outcome was a foregone conclusion. The pre-election manipulation was so thorough, and the electorate so cowed by the painful memories of 2008, that ZANU-PF did not even have to resort to large-scale violence in order to deliver the result it desired. Early signs […]

“Colombia and the United States agree on so many different parts of our agenda today,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said during an Aug. 12 visit to Bogota. “And we have built a very, very strong relationship on shared values and on common interests.” Kerry, Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah have expressed similar thoughts during recent visits to Colombia. Beyond the rhetoric, though, and at a time when Colombia could be on the verge of transitioning from civil war to peace, the diplomatic relationship is on autopilot. High-level diplomatic dialogues between […]

During a recent visit to Afghanistan to assess the implications of the International Security Assistance Force’s (ISAF) withdrawal with regard to humanitarian needs and responses, I was struck by the dissonance between the debates over Afghanistan’s future inside and outside the country. The troop withdrawal has dominated the international agenda since it was announced in 2009. It still remains unclear how many troops will stay in Afghanistan after 2014, when ISAF’s mandate is set to expire, and what their role will be. Meanwhile, the recent row over the U.S.-Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement has raised the specter of a “zero option” […]

Since the Arab uprisings erupted two and a half years ago, the global jihadi movement has metastasized to a variety of new locales across the Arab world, most recently in Syria, Libya, Sinai and Tunisia. While these upheavals surprised many in the region, al-Qaida had predicted such events unfolding in a 20-year strategic plan (2000-2020) that came to light in 2005. That blueprint has gone according to plan so far, albeit more because of outside and structural forces than the efforts of jihadis themselves. As a result, the movement was well-positioned to take advantage of the new developments. In his […]

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