Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

Weekend Reading: Immigration in the Emirates, North and South Yemen, and Egypt’s Copts

by Steven A. Cook Friday, July 29, 2016
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi greets Egyptian Coptic Pope Tawadros II, head of the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church, at the Ittihadiya presidential palace in Cairo (Handout/Reuters). Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi greets Egyptian Coptic Pope Tawadros II, head of the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church, at the Ittihadiya presidential palace in Cairo (Handout/Reuters).

Sultan Al Qassemi shares stories of immigration and citizenship that helped shape the United Arab Emirates today. Read more »

How Erdogan Made Turkey Authoritarian Again

by Steven A. Cook Thursday, July 21, 2016
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the members of his ruling AK Party, as he stands in front of the portraits of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey, and himself during a meeting at his party headquarters in Ankara (Umit Bektas/Reuters). Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the members of his ruling AK Party, as he stands in front of the portraits of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey, and himself during a meeting at his party headquarters in Ankara (Umit Bektas/Reuters).

This article was originally published here in the Atlantic on Thursday, July 21, 2016.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. In October 2004, the European Commission offered Turkey a formal invitation to begin negotiations for membership in that exclusive club of democracies, the European Union. The Justice and Development Party (AKP), which had been in power for just two years at the time, hailed the commission’s offer as validation of its self-described Muslim Democrat worldview. Read more »

Where the Turkish Military Fails, Egypt’s Succeeds

by Steven A. Cook Wednesday, July 20, 2016
Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan celebrate after soldiers involved in the coup surrendered on the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul (Yagiz Karahan/Reuters). Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan celebrate after soldiers involved in the coup surrendered on the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul (Yagiz Karahan/Reuters).

This article was originally published here on ForeignAffairs.com on Tuesday, July 19, 2016.

In a half-decade of extraordinary moments in the Middle East, images of citizens swarming tanks and other military vehicles have been among the most arresting. Within the emerging iconography of the era are photos from early July 2013 that capture overjoyed Egyptians celebrating that the military had emerged from its barracks to depose the country’s elected president, Mohammed Morsi, ending the Muslim Brotherhood’s year-long experiment in governance. The intervention reaffirmed the military’s prestige, influence, and authority in the Egyptian political system. Last Friday night, similar scenes played out in the streets of Istanbul and Ankara. Instead of joy, however, Turks were outraged that members of the military sought to depose President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a politician who has been winning elections as mayor of Istanbul, prime minister of Turkey, and head of state since 1994. The attempted coup failed, a purge is underway, and the Turkish armed forces—the second largest military in NATO—is in chaos. How was it that the Egyptian officers managed to do what that one faction in the Turkish military could not, especially given Turkey’s extensive history of coups? The answer lies in the interventions themselves and the underlying worldview that served as the basis of the officers’ apparent power. Read more »

Failing Iraq

by Steven A. Cook Monday, July 11, 2016
Sir John Chilcot presents The Iraq Inquiry Report at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster, London, Britain (Jeff J Mitchell/Reuters). Sir John Chilcot presents The Iraq Inquiry Report at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster, London, Britain (Jeff J Mitchell/Reuters).

Last week, Sir John Chilcot released the final report of the Iraq Inquiry—also known at the Chilcot report—after seven years of work. It is the definitive statement on how the British government became the primary partner of the United States in Operation Iraqi Freedom and how its armed forces conducted the war. The aftermath of the British vote to leave the European Union and the violence on American streets made the over-six-thousand-page study a second-tier news story, but one also gets the sense that there is a profound ambivalence about reliving the events of thirteen and fourteen years ago. Still, the Chilcot report is important because it reaffirms the transparency and resilience of British political institutions. It is true that, like in the United States, no one was held accountable for the strategic blunder that was the invasion, but the report represents a thorough examination of the record from which hopefully the British (and American) governments can learn. At the same time, the whole exercise seems woefully and depressingly beside the point because it is yet another distraction from the larger story that has been unfolding since the first rockets fell on Baghdad: the failure of Iraq. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Terror and Infrastructure in Iraq, Ladino Music, and the Return of South Yemen

by Steven A. Cook Friday, July 8, 2016
Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims attend prayers during Eid al-Fitr as they mark the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, at the site of a suicide car bomb attack over the weekend at the shopping area of Karrada, in Baghdad, Iraq (Khalid al Mousily/Reuters). Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims attend prayers during Eid al-Fitr as they mark the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, at the site of a suicide car bomb attack over the weekend at the shopping area of Karrada, in Baghdad, Iraq (Khalid al Mousily/Reuters).

Sajad Jiyad, an Iraq-based researcher, argues that it was poor infrastructure as well as terrorism that contributed to the deaths of at least 250 people in Baghdad last Sunday. Read more »

Fourth of July Reading

by Steven A. Cook Friday, July 1, 2016
A woman waves an American flag as she rides in an antique pickup truck through Barnstable Village on Cape Cod, during the annual Fourth of July Parade celebrating the country's Independence Day, in Barnstable, Massachusetts (Mike Segar). A woman waves an American flag as she rides in an antique pickup truck through Barnstable Village on Cape Cod, during the annual Fourth of July Parade celebrating the country's Independence Day, in Barnstable, Massachusetts (Mike Segar).

This Fourth of July holiday, here is what Team Cook is reading:

Lauren Cook, managing partner: The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan.

Steven Cook, field manager: America in Retreat: The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder by Bret Stephens. Read more »

Israel and Turkey: No Big Deal

by Steven A. Cook Monday, June 27, 2016
Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (L) shakes hands with his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan at the Elysee Palace July 13, 2008, in this picture released by the Israeli Government Press Office (Avi Ohayon/Reuters). Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (L) shakes hands with his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan at the Elysee Palace July 13, 2008, in this picture released by the Israeli Government Press Office (Avi Ohayon/Reuters).

Many thanks to Brad Rothschild for his help with the Hebrew.

News came over the weekend that Israel and Turkey are making up. There have been on and off rumors to this effect over the last three or four years, but the expected rapprochement never came. There was some hope that Jerusalem and Ankara would patch things up quickly after President Barack Obama visited Israel in March 2013, and as a party favor—a “deliverable,” as it is known in the awful jargon of Washington wonkery—Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was Turkey’s prime minister at the time before ascending to the presidency in August 2014, to apologize for the infamous 2010 Mavi Marmara incident. It was not to be, however. Negotiations dragged on with varying degrees of intensity between Turkish and Israeli diplomats in the ensuing years with episodic rumors and press report of imminent breakthroughs. Yet because the foreign ministries in both countries actually have limited influence on foreign policy, it was up to the leaders, and neither Netanyahu nor Erdogan seemed all that interested in a rapprochement. All that said, today’s official announcement that Israel and Turkey are restoring full diplomatic relations was not that much of a surprise. But as important a development as the deal may be, this is unlikely to be the dawn of a new day in Israeli-Turkish relations. Read more »