Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

Syria: The Limits of Diplomacy

by Steven A. Cook Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Tunisia's Foreign Affairs Minister Rafik Abdessalem addresses the Friends of Syria Conference in Tunis (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters) Tunisia's Foreign Affairs Minister Rafik Abdessalem addresses the Friends of Syria Conference in Tunis (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters)

Below is the first installment in a series of three posts looking specifically at the prevailing debates on Syria and what to do about the situation there.

In mid January, I wrote a piece on The Atlantic  titled, “It’s Time to Think Seriously about Intervening in Syria.” I am gratified that in the ensuing seven weeks there has been a robust debate on the op-ed pages, blogs, Twitter, Beltway roundtables, and within the Obama administration about what to do about Syria.  No doubt, this has less to do with my 1500 or so words than the deteriorating situation on the ground in Syria, especially the onslaught in Homs.  As the debate suggests, this is not an easy issue.  As I mentioned in the article, “Syria has become a place where violence, colonial legacies, the mistakes of the recent past, and the hopes for a better Middle East have collided to create layers of complications and unsettling trade-offs for policymakers and outside observers.”  It is all these things and much more—the Syria issue intersects with great power politics, international order, the United Nations, the use of military force, and philosophy.  I’ve been struck by the way in which proponents and opponents of intervention have used precisely the same evidence to marshal support for their claims.  For example, Moscow’s support for the Assads is leveraged in a way both to suggest that only force can stop the killing and  as a reason not to intervene because with the help of the Russian (and Chinese and Iranians) whatever force that is brought to bear will do little to bring Assad down while killing a lot of people.  This is not a function of muddled thinking.  (There are many very smart people who are engaged in this debate.)  Rather, we are dealing with a complex problem, with little information, faulty analogies, and fresh memories of a searing decade of violence and intervention in the Middle East.  Unlike Libya, Syria is hard. Read more »

The Economist’s Review of The Struggle for Egypt

by Steven A. Cook Monday, February 27, 2012
Egyptian soldiers stand guard near the defence ministry during a protest demanding that the army hand power over to civilians in Cairo (Mohammed Salem/Courtesy Reuters) Egyptian soldiers stand guard near the defence ministry during a protest demanding that the army hand power over to civilians in Cairo (Mohammed Salem/Courtesy Reuters)

The following review of my book The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square appeared in The Economist on February 25th, 2012. Please click here to read the full text.  Read more »

Weekend Reading: Syria’s Seas, Treaty Troubles?, and Musings on the Maghreb

by Steven A. Cook Friday, February 17, 2012
A man reads a Koran inside an old mosque in Sanaa's Old City district (Mohamed Al-Sayaghi/Courtesy Reuters) A man reads a Koran inside an old mosque in Sanaa's Old City district (Mohamed Al-Sayaghi/Courtesy Reuters)

Guest Post: Sibling Rivalry

by Steven A. Cook Thursday, February 16, 2012
Employees from a Turkish-owned company in Israel protest against the recent tensions between the two countries outside the Turkish embassy in Tel Aviv (NIR ELIAS/Courtesy Reuters) Employees from a Turkish-owned company in Israel protest against the recent tensions between the two countries outside the Turkish embassy in Tel Aviv (NIR ELIAS/Courtesy Reuters)

There is a Middle Eastern country that lately finds itself enmeshed in a large degree of controversy.  A non-Arab democracy founded by a cadre of westernizing secularists, it has committed a number of diplomatic missteps.  The country’s initial response to unrest in the Arab world was to back the ruling authoritarian leaders, which proved a mistake.  It also finds its relations with a critical neighbor and trading partner quickly and severely deteriorating in the wake of the Arab Spring, which is challenging for a number of reasons, not least of which that it relied on this neighbor to be its gateway to the Arab world. Read more »

Weekend Reading: The Syrian Dilemma, America’s Democracy Push in Egypt, and Questions on Egypt’s New Parliament

by Steven A. Cook Friday, February 10, 2012
Activists paint graffiti on a wall ahead of an anti-government rally in Sanaa (Khaled Abdullah Ali Al Mahdi/Courtesy Reuters) Activists paint graffiti on a wall ahead of an anti-government rally in Sanaa (Khaled Abdullah Ali Al Mahdi/Courtesy Reuters)

Alexey Pilko writes on Eurasia Review about the dilemma of Syria.

Emad Mekay says, on the San Francisco Chronicle the U.S. shouldn’t support Egypt’s democracy backers. Read more »

Egypt and the United States: It’s Not You, It’s Me

by Steven A. Cook Monday, February 6, 2012
Egypt's Minister of International Cooperation Naga speaks in New Delhi (B Mathur/Courtesy Reuters) Egypt's Minister of International Cooperation Naga speaks in New Delhi (B Mathur/Courtesy Reuters)

Egypt’s former ambassador to the United States, Nabil Fahmy, once remarked that the U.S.-Egypt relationship was like “a mature marriage.”  It seems that with the trial of 19 Americans and 16 Egyptians and 8 others affiliated with the National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute, the Egyptians are serving divorce papers.  The last four decades have had many highs and quite a  few lows, but now it is time to move on.  What was once a strategic relationship built on the firm geo-strategic foundations of containing Soviet influence in the Middle East, forging peace between Arabs and Israelis, and helping to ensure the stability of the region is now an unhealthy codependency with no strategic rationale or direction. Read more »

Not Re-aShura-ing

by Steven A. Cook Friday, February 3, 2012
Election officials help a man cast his vote in a ballot box in a school used as a polling station for the upper house of Parliament in Cairo, January 29, 2012 (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters) Election officials help a man cast his vote in a ballot box in a school used as a polling station for the upper house of Parliament in Cairo, January 29, 2012 (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters)

There has been a lot on twitter and elsewhere in the social media world about the awful soccer riot in Port Said on February 1st and the subsequent violence in Cairo. The best analysis that I have seen thus far is James M. Dorsey’s piece in Foreign Policy, “Ultra Violence” which can be read here. Read more »