As the Obama administration grapples with what to do next in Egypt, it may be instructive to review the U.S. efforts of the past decade to bring about fundamental political and economic change in Egypt and the other countries of the greater Middle East. The events of 9/11 were a deadly wake-up call to Washington that the status quo in the region—the perpetuation of sclerotic autocracies that provided no meaningful outlet for the economic and political aspirations of the populace—was not sustainable. Indeed, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was later to note—in June 2005, speaking in Cairo, no less—that “For […]

The most remarkable trait of Washington’s policy toward Egypt has been its lack of clarity. That’s part of the reason why each side in the battle over Egypt’s future blames America for supporting the other. Now President Barack Obama has to decide whether or not to continue providing more than $1.5 billion in aid annually. He will be tempted to make another hazy, ambiguous decision, one that allows him to stand on all sides of the issue. Instead, he should take the opportunity to clarify America’s position. According to some reports, the Obama administration has secretly suspended aid, which manages […]

American presidential elections often provide a forum to air differences on military strength between the opposing candidates and their parties. This was particularly true after Vietnam, when a clear distinction between the Republican and Democratic approaches to defense took shape. The GOP favored robust military spending, took a hard line toward the Soviet Union, was skeptical of international organizations and placed less stress on treaties to promote American security. Democrats, by contrast, emphasized international organizations, diplomacy and the promotion of collective and humanitarian interests. By the 1980s, the Republican notion clearly resonated more deeply with the American public: Ronald Reagan […]

On Aug. 13, Vladimir Putin made his first visit to Baku in seven years, marking only his third trip to Azerbaijan as president of Russia—a gap reflecting the complex and sometimes strained relationship between Moscow and Baku. The two have grown apart due to Russia’s closer ties with Armenia as well as Azerbaijan’s westward-oriented energy focus. Azerbaijan’s leaders have been trying to leverage their country’s pivotal location, energy resources and other assets to help manage their volatile neighborhood. Meanwhile, they are pursuing their own regional objectives, which focus on recovering territories occupied by Armenia, averting a war with Iran while […]

Believers in international cooperation need to be optimists. It takes faith and patience to endure the endless conferences, committees and communiques that make up multilateral diplomacy. But even upbeat advocates of global governance are liable to feel gloomy about the prospects for two major meetings scheduled for next month. The first is the annual G-20 summit, to be hosted by Russia in St. Petersburg on Sept. 5-6. The second is the gathering of world leaders for the opening of the new session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York beginning Sept. 24. Both events are more likely to highlight […]

Russia has been sending some confusing signals on Iran in recent weeks. Rumors began to circulate that Russian President Vladimir Putin would be heading to Tehran to meet with newly inaugurated President Hasan Rouhani—with some even predicting that Putin would “drop in” on Iran this week after completing his visit to Azerbaijan to confer with Azeri President Ilham Aliyev. Stories were also released that Russia was reconsidering its unilaterally imposed boycott on selling advanced S-300 air defense systems to Tehran, or at least replacing them with another variant, the Antei-2500 system, as a way to get Iran to drop its […]

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Among the many ways in which the Syrian civil war could radically reshape the Middle East, there is one that had, until recently, received little attention. Amid the chaos, Syria’s long-oppressed Kurds have decided to move toward autonomy. In addition, the intensifying fighting between Syrian Kurds and the Islamist militants of the Syrian opposition have prompted Kurdish leaders in neighboring Iraq to suggest they might intervene to help their brethren in Syria. The two developments are stoking fear among countries that are home to large Kurdish populations. These governments have always viewed the notion of an independent Kurdish state not […]

Revolutions are difficult to gauge in their early stages. They are born out of dissatisfaction with the status quo and a growing feeling that deep change is needed. Most of the time such dissatisfaction ends with modest reform. But in rare instances, it can turn into true revolution and alter the course of history. Because revolutions are driven by thousands, even millions, of individual human decisions, predicting their outcome is difficult. Even the revolutionaries who start them are often surprised by the result. Today a revolution may be brewing in American security policy. More and more Americans are dissatisfied with […]

Having discussed Russia’s policies toward Iran in my last column, I thought it would be instructive to analyze China’s policies toward the Islamic Republic to highlight the similarities and differences in their approaches, which are often overlooked. Beijing shares many of Moscow’s concerns, both regarding Iran’s nuclear program and the West’s reaction to it. But Chinese policymakers are often more timid than their Russian counterparts in defying Western preferences, even as they are at times bolder in seeking advantage from the crisis. During the past decade, China has joined Russia in opposing Iran’s efforts to acquire sensitive nuclear technologies but […]

There will be many eulogies for Sergio Vieira de Mello in the weeks ahead. Next Monday, Aug. 19, marks the 10th anniversary of the death of the charismatic Brazilian United Nations official in Baghdad. The veteran of humanitarian and peacekeeping missions from Sudan to Timor-Leste had reluctantly taken the post of U.N. special representative to Iraq after the U.S. and its allies toppled Saddam Hussein. When a suicide-bomber killed him and 21 of his colleagues in an attack on their lightly guarded headquarters, U.N. officials were traumatized. He remains a totemic figure for the organization today. His admirers will doubtless […]

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Seven years ago, the dominant Democratic narrative explaining the decline in America’s standing in the world was due largely to Republican incompetence in foreign policy matters, with the Iraq War presented as Exhibit A. If Democrats returned to power, it was intimated, the United States would regain its international position. American allies, starting with the Europeans, would fall in line to support U.S. security initiatives; multilateral institutions would work because Democrats would demonstrate their superior negotiating techniques; and when it came to dealing with “difficult” regimes like China or Russia, Democrats would show the “cowboys” in the George W. Bush […]

The tally of Arab Spring winners and losers keeps changing in the Middle East, and it’s difficult to predict how the list will look when the revolutionary fervor dies down. There is one player, however, whose fortunes have eroded so dramatically as to bring into question whether it will survive as currently constituted. Hamas, the Islamist militant branch of the Muslim Brotherhood that has governed the Palestinian Gaza Strip since it took control by force in 2007, suddenly finds itself against the ropes, struggling to remain viable and showing its increasing difficulties through actions that reek of desperation. Hamas now […]

Since the birth of the transnational Salafi jihadist movement in Afghanistan during the 1980s, its leaders have refined a strategy based on “swarming.” Jihadists tied to or inspired by al-Qaida look for a conflict where locals are fighting a repressive or ineffective regime, preferably one seen as an outside, impious force. Jihadists then flock to the conflict and join local fighters, cast the clash in religious terms, push the locals toward the Salafist position associated with al-Qaida and, if possible, take over the resistance. Their goal is creation of an independent “emirate” to inspire other jihadists and, eventually, re-create the […]

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Many countries have welcomed the election of Iran’s newly inaugurated president, Hasan Rouhani, while remaining cautious about the prospects for major shifts in Iranian policy as a result of his victory. But few countries have responded as erratically as Russia. Recent weeks have seen media reports that President Vladimir Putin would visit Tehran and that Moscow would sell Iran advanced weaponry—only to be retracted days later. Russia’s interests regarding Iran are complex and often conflicting, explaining Russian policymakers’ seemingly erratic behavior. Moscow has six core goals regarding Iran: supporting nonproliferation, preventing war or regime change, maintaining regional security, minimizing sanctions, […]

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Experts on post-conflict reconstruction don’t talk much about the idea of honor. They emphasize worthy but bloodless concepts like good governance instead. Yet appealing to national pride can do wonders for a politician aiming to inspire the citizens of a war-damaged country. In Mali, for instance, it has worked for Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, a veteran politician who is on course to be the country’s next president. He has promised to restore “the honor of Mali” after its collapse into civil war in 2012, during which Tuareg separatists and Islamists seized the north of the country, necessitating an intervention by France […]

U.S.-Russia relations can’t catch a break. No sooner is one set of difficulties navigated than another wave of troubles appears on the horizon. Earlier this year, differences over Syria appeared to be the rock upon which the bilateral relationship would founder, as America’s insistence on supporting the opposition seeking the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad—and Moscow’s absolute refusal to abandon the regime in Damascus—seemed to put both countries on a collision course. Then the flight of NSA contractor Edward Snowden from the long hand of U.S. justice to a limbo in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport threatened relations, […]

It was the phone call heard around the world: The conversation between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was hailed as a major diplomatic breakthrough, a triumph for U.S. President Barack Obama, who in the last moments of his trip to Israel last March nudged the two leaders to end their festering disagreement. Reconciliation, however, is yet to come. Four months after the call, Israel and Turkey have still not managed to bridge the gaps that have separated them since relations fell apart in May 2010, when an Israeli raid on a Turkish ship […]