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), […]

Diplomats at the United Nations experienced something approaching euphoria at the end of last week. The annual gathering of world leaders for the U.N. General Assembly, in most years an exhausting and tedious exercise, had turned into a nail-biting drama. International and official commentators were gripped by two questions. Would the Security Council make a deal on the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons? Could the U.S. and Iran move toward rapprochement over Tehran’s nuclear goals? Neither outcome was guaranteed, but the week culminated with a pair of diplomatic coups. On Friday afternoon, President Barack Obama reported that he had made […]

This month, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk faced protests in the capital followed by the defection of a member of his governing party in parliament. In an email interview, Aleks Szczerbiak, professor of politics and contemporary European studies at the University of Sussex, explained the sources of Polish discontent and the implications for the stability of Tusk’s government. WPR: What is driving the dissatisfaction with Tusk’s government? Aleks Szczerbiak: The slump in support for Tusk’s government is due to a number of factors. Continued economic sluggishness has accompanied a growing perception that the government is drifting and has failed to […]

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 […]

Al-Shabab, the Islamic extremist group behind the recent siege on an upscale mall in Nairobi, Kenya, has since carried out attacks on Kenyan towns near the Somalia border. The group has threatened to continue the violence until Kenyan troops withdraw from Somalia, and even as forensic experts work to put the pieces together and determine the death toll after the devastating terrorist attack on Nairobi’s Westgate mall, analysts are beginning to ask what is next for al-Shabab. “The concern is that because al-Shabab is not really a conventional threat anymore, and yet they clearly want to retain their credibility and […]

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 […]

This week, speaking before the United Nations General Assembly, President Barack Obama laid out a U.S. foreign policy agenda for the remainder of his term in office, with particular emphasis on finding a solution to the impasse over the Iranian nuclear program and making a lasting breakthrough in the seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian dispute. However, the overall focus of the address, with its emphasis on the centrality of the Middle East, is seemingly at odds with the direction articulated earlier in his administration, most notably by former National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: the so-called […]

A group of Tuareg rebels in northern Mali, whose rebellion against the central government sparked a coup and eventually a French intervention, announced yesterday that they were backing out of a June 2013 peace agreement with the Malian government. The move is a step backward for the efforts to stitch Mali back together again. But as Kamissa Camara wrote in WPR earlier this month, the agreement put on hold yesterday was problematic to begin with: Mali’s central government has signed a series of peace agreements with Tuareg rebels over the years, but they have only served short-term purposes. The latest […]

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is meeting U.S. President Barack Obama today at the White House, where the two leaders are expected to reach deals on defense cooperation and trade in nuclear technology. That reflects the interest on both sides to move past the “differences and divisions have taken center stage in recent months,” as Richard Fontaine explained in World Politics Review last month: Despite drift in some key areas of the relationship, the underlying strategic rationale for it remains. Washington is rebalancing its foreign policy to Asia, attempting to allot that region greater diplomatic attention, military resources and commercial […]

When heads of state attending the United Nations General Assembly arrived in New York two years ago, they shared the spotlight with another group of people massing in the city. Lower Manhattan was becoming the epicenter of a movement that became known as Occupy Wall Street, a manifestation of the wave of people power that was sweeping the globe. Back then, masses of everyday citizens were flexing their muscles worldwide. Demonstrators seemed to have the upper hand—peacefully toppling dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, raising complaints and demands seemingly everywhere. The very meaning of power seemed to be changing. Over the […]

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 […]

Addressing the U.N. General Assembly yesterday, Madagascar’s unelected transitional president, Andry Rajoelina, told world leaders that he had decided not to run in his country’s upcoming presidential election, slated for Oct. 25. The decision, Rajoelina said, would “unblock the political crisis.” Rajoelina came to office on the back of a military coup in 2009 that ousted elected President Marc Ravalomanana, who is currently living in exile in South Africa. As Simon Massey wrote in a WPR briefing last month, Madagascar has suffered from the ensuing protracted crisis: The intervening period has seen deterioration in the rule of law, declining standards […]

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 […]

As the U.S. military struggles with severe budget cuts driven by political posturing rather than a strategic vision, the Army is facing a deep identity crisis. As defense expert Nadia Schadlow explained, “After 10 years of fighting two major wars and suffering the brunt of America’s military casualties, the most experienced and powerful ground force in the world now has to justify its value and relevance.” The historical American preference was to keep only a small army during peacetime, creating one only when war came and demobilizing afterward. That would not work during the Cold War, however, so, for the […]

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 […]

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