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Thursday marks the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, which will be noted with anguish by Palestinians and quiet celebration by Israelis. Nov. 2, 1917 was a major turning point for the Middle East, when the then-British foreign secretary expressed in writing his government’s support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. While, a century later, Arab politics and international relations focus on many other challenges, the cause of Palestine retains a gravitational pull for many Arabs, including younger generations. Thoughtful Israelis and Palestinians are still debating how to correct the imbalance between Israel’s success and the Palestinians’ […]

Members of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces ride near the main traffic circle in Raqqa, Syria, Oct. 20, 2017 (AP photo by Asmaa Waguih).

The Syrian war has torn the United Nations apart many times over. There is more damage for it to do yet. While Syria may be stumbling toward some sort of peace, the U.N.’s role in assisting this process is likely to be controversial for many years ahead. U.N. peacebuilders are likely to hold a very weak hand when it comes to dealing with the Syrian regime and its international backers. The organization has been accused of kow-towing to human rights abusers in cases such as Sudan and Myanmar, neither of which benefits from as much support. What principles should guide […]

A woman walks past a TV screen showing U.S. President Donald Trump giving his maiden address at the U.N. General Assembly, Tokyo, Japan,  Sept. 20, 2017 (AP photo by Eugene Hoshiko).

During the past few weeks, the standoff between North Korea and the United States has cooled a bit. Pyongyang has not tested more ballistic missiles or nuclear devices, and U.S. President Donald Trump has not launched more insulting tweets at North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. That is good, but the crisis is no closer to resolution than it was months or years ago; there is not even a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. It remains the world’s most dangerous threat. It is hard to see a path to resolution at this point. In a recent […]

Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in New Delhi, India, Oct. 25, 2017 (AP photo Manish Swarup).

Five months after Donald Trump became U.S. president, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi traveled to Washington, hoping to redirect Trump’s attention to the Indian subcontinent. He wanted to remind Trump, who had appeared rather enthralled with China’s leader, of Washington’s pledge to have a deeper relationship with New Delhi, not with India’s rivals or enemies. Since then, though, Trump has praised Pakistan, India’s primary foe, and is now preparing to undertake a major foreign trip, with visits to five Asian countries, including China—but not India. So the job has fallen to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to soothe India’s worries […]

Chinese President Xi Jinping waves during a press event to introduce the new members of the Chinese Politburo in the Great Hall of the People, Beijing, Oct. 25, 2017 (AP photo by Ng Han Guan).

The Chinese Communist Party’s congress, the once-every-five-year gathering that draws to a close today, brings to mind the old Danish proverb, sometimes misattributed to the New York Yankee hall of famer Yogi Berra: It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future. This year’s congress, which comes at the end of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s first five-year term in office, was being watched closely for signs of whether his second term would conform to the practice of other recent Chinese leaders and be his last. Since Deng Xiaoping’s exit from power in 1989, the party’s collective leadership has used the […]

U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 Summit, days before a U.S.-Russia-Jordan-brokered truce for southern Syria came into effect, Hamburg, Germany,  July 7, 2017 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

The United States has been the pre-eminent external actor in the Middle East since Egyptian President Anwar Sadat expelled his Soviet advisers and benefactors and turned to Washington in the 1970s. But America’s role is contracting, by design and by default. Russia and China insist they do not want to replace the U.S. in the Middle East, but they are still intent on expanding their regional influence. The shifting fortunes among the three global greats—the U.S., Russia and China—are playing out in the Middle East today. The U.S. has indisputably dominated the scene, from its military presence in the Gulf […]

United Nations staff and other demonstrators assemble at U.N. headquarters to show their solidarity with the people of Aleppo, New York, Dec. 15, 2016 (AP photo by Seth Wenig).

Who remembers Aleppo? A year ago, the Syrian city appeared tragically central to international diplomacy. Russian and Syrian government forces were in the midst of a brutal final push to drive rebels from eastern Aleppo. This was the last major urban redoubt of opponents of President Bashar al-Assad. It was clear that the city’s looming collapse could be a definitive turning point in his battle to cling onto power. Yet the fate of Aleppo seemed liable to have vastly wider effects. The city was a profound source of friction between the U.S. and Russia before and after the November 2016 […]

Iraqi security forces and volunteers celebrate in front of the Governorate Council Building in Kirkuk, Iraq, Oct. 16, 2017 (AP photo by Emad Matti).

Three months after defeating the self-proclaimed Islamic State in the horrific battle for Mosul, Iraqi security forces backed by Shiite militias and Iranian special forces attacked Iraqi Kurds, retaking control of the vital city of Kirkuk and nearby oil fields from the semiautonomous Kurdish Regional Government. While the offensive was sparked by a Kurdish independence referendum three weeks ago, it may signal a new, dangerous phase in Iraq’s interminable internal conflict. The United States so far has failed to head this off, despite its efforts. Washington opposed the Kurdish independence vote but could not prevent it. Nor could it halt […]

A man poses as a crying Geert Wilders, the firebrand anti-Islam lawmaker, during a small demonstration outside parliament in The Hague, Netherlands, March 16, 2017 (AP photo by Peter Dejong).

The Dutch felt very proud when photographs of Prime Minister Mark Rutte riding his bicycle to a meeting with the king at the Noordeinde Palace in The Hague last week turned into a moderately viral international sensation. To the rest of the planet, it might seem disconcerting to see a world leader pedaling to a meeting with a monarch. But in the Netherlands, it’s everyday fare. It was a quintessentially Dutch image: a powerful man disdaining the visible accoutrements of the mighty in favor of a “normal” way of life. And on this particular occasion, it served to make a […]

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, Sept. 19, 2017 (AP photo by Seth Wenig).

One of the major concerns among critics of U.S. President Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy has always been that, in addition to potentially destabilizing the global order, it might end up being a shortcut to an “America alone” world. Trump’s decision last week not to recertify the Iran nuclear deal represented a step in that direction. To reach his decision, Trump disregarded the International Atomic Energy Agency’s repeated declarations that Iran is in compliance with the terms of the agreement. He also ignored the entreaties of France, the U.K. and Germany, America’s allies who are also signatories to the […]

Female protesters flash the No. 1 sign as part of the “One Billion Rising” global movement to end violence against women and children, Manila, Philippines, Feb. 15, 2016 (AP photo by Bullit Marquez).

Most studies of violence and conflict usually focus on political motivations. But the ubiquity of gender-based violence in many if not most societies has now pushed this social issue into the analysis of patterns and trends in violence more broadly. Political and social scientists who study conflict often focus on disputes over land, resources and political power as determinants of where violence occurs and persists. Gender-based violence in conflict situations has largely been seen as a byproduct of war. The United Nations has increasingly given attention to crimes against women as war crimes, creating a special representative for sexual violence […]

President Donald Trump arrives to speak about Iran from the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House, Washington, Oct. 13, 2017 (AP photo by Susan Walsh).

When it comes to the destruction of international institutions and agreements, Donald Trump is more a tease than a terminator. The U.S. president often aims to undercut international cooperation, but dodges taking decisive action against his multilateral targets. Last week, for example, he announced two steps to weaken the United Nations system that were not quite what they first seemed. On Thursday, Trump pulled the U.S. out of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), arguing that it is endemically biased against Israel. But this was a largely symbolic move. The Obama administration cut off funding to UNESCO in […]

Turkish Chief of Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar, center, and Somali Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khayre, second left, tour a new Turkish-Somali military training center in Mogadishu, Somalia, Sept. 30, 2017 (AP photo by Farah Abdi Warsame).

For centuries, outside powers have clashed in Africa, often exploiting weaknesses or divisions across the continent to grasp at power and resources. The second half of the 19th century, for instance, saw the “scramble for Africa” as European nations divided nearly all of the continent into colonies. Several times competition between colonial powers nearly led to war in Europe. In the second half of the 20th century, during the Cold War, Africa was torn as Western nations—first the outgoing European colonizers and later the United States—supported friendly governments and political movements against allies of the Soviet Union, China and Cuba. […]

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive for a signing ceremony after their talks at the Kremlin, Moscow, Russia, Oct. 5, 2017 (AP photo by Pavel Golovkin).

When U.S. President Donald Trump visited Saudi Arabia last May, making it the first stop in his first foreign trip as president, he unleashed a wave of euphoria in the kingdom. The Saudis viewed Trump as a like-minded leader, whose ascent augured a future of closely coordinated foreign policy and firm advances for a U.S.-backed Saudi Arabian agenda in the Middle East. But five months later, in a twist few could have anticipated, Saudi King Salman landed in Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, signaling that Trump’s embrace of the kingdom has proved less fruitful than the Saudis […]

Policemen and members of a French military task force secure the convoy transporting the surviving Paris attacks suspect, Salah Abdeslam, Paris, May 20, 2016 (AP photo by Laurent Cipriani).

PARIS—France’s parliament is poised to pass a controversial counterterrorism law, after the National Assembly and Senate reconciled their respective versions of the bill Monday. The lower house is now set to vote the final text into law today, with the Senate to follow suit next week. The law serves to integrate into the statutory code many of the measures that were adopted under a three-month state of emergency declared after the Paris terrorist attacks of November 2015. Later extended to six months, the state of emergency has been renewed systematically since then. It will now be replaced by the new […]

Mourners take the coffin of former Iraqi President Jalal Talabani during his funeral procession, Sulaimaniyah, Iraq, Oct. 6, 2017 (AP photo).

Jalal Talabani, the Kurdish leader and former president of Iraq, died earlier this month, five years after being incapacitated by a stroke and days after a controversial referendum on Kurdish independence. His life and legacy offer insights into the complex mix of leadership and identity in Kurdistan and Iraq—or, for that matter, in Catalonia and other places where identity does not align easily with the borders of a nation state. Talabani was a towering figure in both Kurdish and Iraqi politics, and moved easily between these two magnetic poles. No one could doubt his devotion to Kurdish rights and the […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman listen to national anthems during their meeting at the Kremlin, Moscow, Russia, Oct. 5, 2017 (AP photo by Pavel Golovkin).

Editor’s note: Guest columnist Nikolas Gvosdev is filling in for Steven Metz, who will return next week. “You can’t surge trust.” That was the constant refrain of Gen. James Amos, commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps from 2010 to 2014, whenever he offered advice for U.S. policymakers about the Middle East. Unfortunately, the people who took his advice closest to heart have been the Russians. It is reflected in President Vladimir Putin’s recent visit to Ankara to confer with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the historic arrival of King Salman of Saudi Arabia to Moscow for talks this week. […]

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