Sam Heller discusses the revisionist ideology of Syria’s Ahrar al-Sham and the future of jihadi thought.
I have always wondered why leaders of foreign countries feel the need to publish opinion pieces in American newspapers of record. Who exactly are they trying to influence? The folks at the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon, the Treasury, and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) generally know a lot more about conditions in a given country than what these leaders are trying to convey in 750 to 850 words. Maybe such op-eds are meant for members of Congress and their staffs, many of whom are just far too busy to focus on any one issue. Perhaps they’re intended to build support with the American public, but with the exception of a few issues—transnational terrorism, Israel, Iraq (sort of), and the Iran nuclear deal—Americans do not seem much interested in what foreign leaders are doing at home to make their economies grow and provide opportunities for their citizens. I can only presume that foreign leaders believe it will accrue to their domestic political benefit by having an op-ed in one of America’s elite newspapers. Read more »
Early September brought the news that the Russians were deploying military forces to Bassel al-Assad International Airport near Latakia on the Syrian coast. The Aviationist website recently reproduced satellite imagery showing twenty-eight combat aircraft, including four Sukhoi Su-30SM multirole (air-to-air and ground interdiction) fighters, twelve Sukhoi Su-25 attack planes, and twelve Sukhoi Su-24 attack planes. In addition, the Russians have deployed fifteen helicopters, nine tanks, three missile batteries, cargo planes, refueling aircraft, and about five hundred soldiers to the same airfield. The Obama administration has not said much about the deployment, only that it was seeking clarification from Moscow. Pentagon officials were generally mum last Friday after Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter called his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, saying only that they are watching the situation closely. The administration’s critics and supporters have responded to these developments in ways one might expect—howling criticism or over rationalization justifying why the presence of Russian forces in Syria is actually no big deal. They both have it wrong, though. Of course, the Russian buildup is a very big deal and marks a new, even more complicated and potentially dangerous phase in the Syrian conflict, but that is precisely why we should welcome it. Read more »
Ever since the self-declared Islamic State overran Mosul in June 2014, virtually everyone has made it fairly clear in mostly unintended ways that we do not understand a lot about the group. Perhaps that is a bit unfair. There are a number of talented scholars who have done great work on the origins and worldview of the Islamic State. Both Will McCants and Dan Byman have new books on the group and Aaron Zelin has long been a terrific resource on all things extremist. Their work should help Washington understand how to meet the challenge the Islamic State presents, yet I keep hearing the same things about the Islamic State that I have been hearing since everyone discovered it and rediscovered Iraq fifteen months ago. One of the most dissatisfying is this, or some variation of it: “The Islamic State cannot provide services in the areas that it controls thereby sowing the seeds of its own demise.” This strikes me as one of those things that make a lot of sense to those of us here, but seems erroneous in the context of the Islamic State. It is pretty clear to me that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi does not care about guaranteeing services, that failing to provide things like electricity will not actually undermine the Islamic State, and that the inability (or unwillingness) to extend services to people living in IS-land does not make it all that different from any number of states in Middle East. Read more »
It is hard to express the trauma that New Yorkers experienced on September 11, 2001. One of my oldest friends, Billy Bauer, does an excellent job. When I read this short post on his Facebook page this morning, I found myself in Billy’s shoes on that terrible day. I am not generally a fan of 9/11 remembrances, but this one grabbed me. I did not know this story. As haunting and frightening as it is, I am glad Billy posted it. Read more »
Exactly a decade ago I became a father for the first time. At the very moment I first laid eyes on my daughter I experienced something I had never felt before. It was total. In an instant my life’s mission became: At all costs, whatever it takes, ensure the health and well-being of this human. I went from a guy existing in the goofy, unreal world of impending first-time fatherhood to “parent,” with all the primordial and overwhelming—until it aches—feelings of unconditional love that come with it. These are the reasons why I have been unable to bring myself to read about poor Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian-Kurdish toddler who washed ashore in Bodrum on the southeastern coast of Turkey, fleeing the cataclysm that has engulfed his country. It is why I had to fight back tears at just the sight of his father who has lost Aylan, his older brother, Galip, and their mother. Abdullah Kurdi’s reality is my night terror. So much has been written about the Kurdi family, Europe’s “migrant crisis,” and the Syrian conflict since the photo of Aylan lying facedown on the beach was published last week, but how many little boys and girls have died in the Syria disaster? We have collectively averted our eyes to unbearable suffering. Another picture of Aylan cradled in the arms of a Turkish police officer reminded me that not everyone has, however. Readers of this blog know that I have been routinely critical of the Turkish government, the Justice and Development Party, and especially Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but when it comes to handling the situation of Syrian refugees in their country, the Turks deserve praise. Read more »
From the Potomac to the Euphrates examines how debates about Mideast policy in Washington connect to the region, with a special focus on Egypt and Turkey.