Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

Cook examines developments in the Middle East and their resonance in Washington.

Salvaging Abbas

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, July 29, 2014
U.S. President Barack Obama walks down Cross Hall with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas September 1, 2010 (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. President Barack Obama walks down Cross Hall with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas September 1, 2010 (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on TimesOfIsrael.com on Tuesday, July 29, 2014.

Almost from the start of the conflict in the Gaza Strip, the commentariat has been seized with the idea of “empowering [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas” as the only way out of the recurrent violence between Israel and Hamas. The discovery of this idea in Washington (and Jerusalem for that matter) is rather odd, not because it does not make sense, but rather because the idea is so reasonable and obvious that one wonders why — ten years after he became the Palestinian leader — it took so long to recognize it. Almost from the moment of Yasser Arafat’s death, Egypt sent high-level emissaries to the United States, warning that the new Palestinian president needed help lest he gradually cede the political arena to Hamas. He did not get it then and now it is likely too late to salvage Abbas. Read more »

The Last Great Myth About Egypt

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, July 22, 2014
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) speaks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo July 22, 2014 (Charles Dharapak/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) speaks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo July 22, 2014 (Charles Dharapak/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on ForeignPolicy.com on Monday, July 21, 2014.

In the 1970s, Henry Kissinger fell in love with Anwar Sadat. To Kissinger, the Egyptian president “had the wisdom and courage of the statesman and occasionally the insight of the prophet.” It was from this romance that a set of ideas about Egypt became inculcated in American Middle East policy: Egypt would be a bulwark against the Soviet Union, a base from which U.S. forces would launch in the event of a crisis in the Persian Gulf, and a mediator between Arabs — especially the Palestinians — and Israelis. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Assad’s Inaugural Address, A Review of Rouhani, and Egypt’s Reconciliation Problems

by Steven A. Cook Friday, July 18, 2014
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad places his right hand on a Koran as he is sworn in for a new seven-year term, at al-Shaab presidential palace in Damascus July 16, 2014 (Sana Sana/Courtesy Reuters). Syria's President Bashar al-Assad places his right hand on a Koran as he is sworn in for a new seven-year term, at al-Shaab presidential palace in Damascus July 16, 2014 (Sana Sana/Courtesy Reuters).

Full text of Bashar al-Assad’s inauguration speech at his swearing-in ceremony last Wednesday, translated by the Center for Research on Globalization. Read more »

On the Death of a Friend in Israel

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Elhanan Harlev Elhanan Harlev

On the Death of a Friend in Israel

My friend Elhanan Harlev died on July 1st after a long illness. We had an odd friendship. He was an Israeli by way of Germany and Argentina. I am a kid from Long Island. Elhanan was more than three decades older than me. We did not share a common language. Against those odds we somehow managed to communicate. Often times it was through an able interpreter like his wife, my cousin Carol, or one of her sons from her first marriage—most often Ari, who has popped up on this blog from time to time. At other times, Elhanan and I just found a way to understand each other. Never has a name, Elhanan means “God is Merciful,” been so apt for the soft-spoken, gentle, and wise soul that he was (and remains). His was an extraordinary life because it was so normal. And in that normalcy, he taught me more about Israel than much of what I have read. Read more »

Weekend Reading: The King of the Kurds, Sexual Violence in Egypt, and Israel’s Accidental War

by Steven A. Cook Friday, July 11, 2014
A Sunni Sheikh carries a mock of a rocket during a demonstration organised by Lebanese Sunni Islamists and Palestinians to denounce Israeli air strikes on the Gaza strip (Ali Hashisho/Courtesy Reuters). A Sunni Sheikh carries a mock of a rocket during a demonstration organised by Lebanese Sunni Islamists and Palestinians to denounce Israeli air strikes on the Gaza strip (Ali Hashisho/Courtesy Reuters).

Sarah Carr, writing for Mada Masroffers an in-depth and graphic look at sexual assault and the Egyptian state.

J.J. Goldberg explores the triggers to an “unintended” war in Gaza. Read more »

Iraq: Allah Have Mercy

by Steven A. Cook Monday, June 30, 2014
Iraqi Shi'ite politician Ahmed Chalabi (Saad Shalash/Courtesy Reuters). Iraqi Shi'ite politician Ahmed Chalabi (Saad Shalash/Courtesy Reuters).

It seems impossible, but it is true.  President Barack Obama was elected to the highest office in the land in 2008 in part because after five years in Iraq, he promised the American people that he would not “do stupid stuff.”  He is about to do precisely that in Iraq.  It is not just the “I-don’t-know-whether-to-laugh-or-cry” feeling I had when I learned the news that Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Brett McGurk had met with Ahmed Chalabi the week before last to discuss the current crisis and Chalabi’s potential role in a new government. The irony is too much to take, but the dalliance with Chalabi is not actually the issue.  Chatting up Chalabi is just a symptom of a bigger, albeit more abstract, problem the Obama and Bush administrations have had in Iraq:  Bad assumptions. Read more »

Kurds: Running Before Walking

by Steven A. Cook Friday, June 27, 2014
Members of the Kurdish Peshmerga celebrate in the city of Kirkuk June 24, 2014 (Ako Rasheed/Courtesy Reuters). Members of the Kurdish Peshmerga celebrate in the city of Kirkuk June 24, 2014 (Ako Rasheed/Courtesy Reuters).

Erbil had a weird feel to it this week.  The euphoria that came when the Kurd’s military, known as the peshmerga, took over Kirkuk on June 11 has not exactly faded, but reality is making people nervous.  The Kurds have never had it so good, but it is all relative, and the Kurds may be getting ahead of themselves which could lead to disaster. Read more »

Silence in Egypt

by Guest Blogger for Steven A. Cook Thursday, June 26, 2014
Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed (L-R) listen to the ruling at a court in Cairo June 23, 2014 (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters). Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed (L-R) listen to the ruling at a court in Cairo June 23, 2014 (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters).

My research associate, Alex Brock, is in Cairo getting some well-deserved rest.  I thought you would be interested in his thoughts on recent developments in Egypt.  Enjoy.

Cairo, Egypt—I waited, and waited, checking Twitter.  I stopped by Tahrir Square a few times, figuring if anything would happen it would be there.  Some BBC employees staged a moment of silence, but that was in London. There was nothing in Cairo after a court convicted three Al Jazeera journalists and sentenced them to 7-10 years in prison.  Just silence.  The Twittersphere went crazy over the verdicts while the rest of Egypt went about its business.  The political turmoil in Egypt has become a fight between elites, while the rest of the country seems to want some sense of normalcy. Read more »