Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

Between Barack, Bibi, and Tayyip

by Steven A. Cook Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) speaks on the phone (Baz Ratner/Courtesy Reuters). Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) speaks on the phone (Baz Ratner/Courtesy Reuters).

There has been much ink spilled in the last week over the rapprochement between Israel and Turkey.  I have been somewhat reluctant to weigh-in if only because I was fairly certain that reconciliation between the two countries was not going to happen anytime soon.  I am now eating crow. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Controversy in Jordan, A New Year in Iran, and Religion in Syria

by Steven A. Cook Saturday, March 23, 2013
Tourists stroll at the Grand Bazaar, which was built during the Ottoman-era, in Istanbul (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters). Tourists stroll at the Grand Bazaar, which was built during the Ottoman-era, in Istanbul (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters).

The Jordanian perspective on Jordan’s current political situation and King Abdullah’s recent commentary in the Atlantic. Read more »

Jordan Second

by Steven A. Cook Thursday, March 21, 2013
Jordan's King Abdullah II Bin Al Hussein (Ray Stubblebine/Courtesy Reuters). Jordan's King Abdullah II Bin Al Hussein (Ray Stubblebine/Courtesy Reuters).

Lost in all the commentary in President Obama’s visit to Israel is the fact that he will also visit Jordan.  The country is often derisively referred to as the “Hashemite Kingdom of Boredom,” but it has been anything but lately.  To be sure, Jeffrey Goldberg’s extraordinary interview with King Abdullah II has caused quite a stir, but that is not the only reason why Jordan is interesting.  In January the Jordanians held elections, there have been a spate of protests over food prices, strong criticism of the King from some of the monarchy’s heretofore strong tribal supporters, and Jordan is now host to more than half a million Syrian refugees.  The fact that Syria is in chaos, sectarian gangs rule Iraq, Egypt is in turmoil, and predictions of a 3rd Palestinian intifada abound places King Abdullah and his Kingdom in a more uncomfortable position than usual.  That said, I have been assured by people who know far more about Jordan than I that expectations of instability and threats to Hashemite rule are overblown—a function of a few boisterous activists and impressionable Western journalists. Read more »

Israel’s Jerusalem “Piece Process”

by Steven A. Cook Monday, March 18, 2013
Jewish settlers hold Israeli flags and shout slogans from their balcony at left-wing activists (not seen) during a demonstration to show solidarity with Palestinians against a newly dedicated Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem (Amir Cohen/Courtesy Reuters). Jewish settlers hold Israeli flags and shout slogans from their balcony at left-wing activists (not seen) during a demonstration to show solidarity with Palestinians against a newly dedicated Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem (Amir Cohen/Courtesy Reuters).

So it has begun.  President Barack Obama travels to Israel—as well as Palestine and Jordan—this week and columnists, bloggers, and foreign policy wonks of all stripes have begun commenting on the visit.  My friend Aaron Miller weighed in Sunday morning with a big article in the Washington Post’s “Outlook” section about where the President can find common ground with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, though most of the piece was devoted to the relationship with Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. The National’s Hugh Naylor quotes Yossi Bellin, who will forever be identified as an “architect of the 1993 Oslo Accords,” as stating boldly that President Obama should not bother making the trip unless he comes with proposals to bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to an end. Overall, there have been at least sixteen articles and op-eds in the past few weeks dealing with the peace process and President Obama’s travels to the region. Most of them are in line with the low expectations that the White House has set ahead of the visit, suggesting that the meetings between the President and Israeli prime minister will deal almost exclusively with Syria and Iran. That may be the case, but there are some modest expectations bubbling up on the peace process. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Israel’s Defense, Saudi’s Trials, and Egypt’s War on Women

by Steven A. Cook Saturday, March 16, 2013
Muslim children read verses from the Koran at al-Amin mosque, in downtown Beirut, during the holy month of Ramadan (Jamal Saidi/Courtesy Reuters). Muslim children read verses from the Koran at al-Amin mosque, in downtown Beirut, during the holy month of Ramadan (Jamal Saidi/Courtesy Reuters).

Brent Sasley compares former Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak to the newcomer in the position, Moshe Ya’alon.

The Saudi Twittersphere is stirring in reaction to the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) Trial. Read more »

The EU+Hizballah=Cynicism

by Steven A. Cook Friday, March 15, 2013
The Achille Lauro (Courtesy Reuters). The Achille Lauro (Courtesy Reuters).

Hizballah has been in the news recently.  The group that a senior U.S. government official once described as the “ ‘A-team’ of terrorism,” took a back seat to al-Qaeda over the last decade.  Prior to the attacks on New York and Washington in September 2001, Hizballah was responsible for more American deaths than any other organization on the State Department’s list of terrorists.  The most spectacular of Hizabllah’s operations since the organization’s founding in 1982 was the destruction of the U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut in the spring of 1983.  More recently, the Bulgarian government fingered Hizballah for the July 2012 bus bombing that killed five Israelis and a Bulgarian bus driver in the resort town of Burgas.  Also, the New York Times reported last week that the Lebanese newspaper, al Akhbar—a pro-Hizballah daily—has been engaged in an effort to intimidate prosecution witnesses set to appear before the International Criminal Court, which is trying four members of Hizballah for the murder of former Prime Rafik Harriri.  Then there are the thousands of Hizballah fighters in Syria supporting the Assad regime in that country’s civil war. Read more »

Egypt: Ministry of Chaos

by Steven A. Cook Monday, March 11, 2013
Riot police walk in front of the Interior Ministry headquarters in Cairo March 8, 2013 (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). Riot police walk in front of the Interior Ministry headquarters in Cairo March 8, 2013 (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

The lawlessness and seemingly senseless violence that has descended upon Egypt in recent weeks has led some Egyptians to wonder whether March 2013 is the modern analogue to January 1952.  Black Sunday, as it came to be known, was a spasm of violence that engulfed Cairo after British forces killed a group of Egyptian policeman in the city of Ismailia.  That day of rage—January 25—culminated in a fire in downtown Cairo that destroyed movie theaters, restaurants, and clubs.  Debate continues over who started the fires with some contending it was the Muslim Brotherhood and other arguing that it was provocateurs associated with the Free Officers.  Regardless, Black Sunday set in motion a chain of events that led to the Free Officers coup of July 1952. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Tunisian Shake, Jordan’s Price Hike, and Syria’s Rebel Leadership

by Steven A. Cook Friday, March 8, 2013
Former theology student Mevlude Aydemir reads a book in the old city of Istanbul (Fatih Saribas/Courtesy Reuters). Former theology student Mevlude Aydemir reads a book in the old city of Istanbul (Fatih Saribas/Courtesy Reuters).

Haifa Zaaiter argues that the “Harlem Shake” craze that has hit Tunisia may end up disarming the Salafists of their most potent weapon: denouncement of apostasy.

The Impatient Bedouin reflects on the recent outburst of violence in Jordan’s parliament over the country’s decision to raise fuel prices last week. Read more »

Egypt: The High Art of Being Feckless

by Steven A. Cook Thursday, March 7, 2013
Protesters hold banners during a march toward the foreign ministry in Cairo, demonstrating against the visit of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on March 2, 2013 (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters). Protesters hold banners during a march toward the foreign ministry in Cairo, demonstrating against the visit of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on March 2, 2013 (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters).

I felt sorry for Secretary of State John Kerry when he flew into Cairo on March 2.  I am sure his briefers and the U.S. embassy staff did everything they could to prepare him for the visit as best as possible. Still, I’m not sure that Massachusetts politics, the less than genteel Senate, the rough-and-tumble world of a presidential election campaign, and the best briefing ever could prepare the new secretary for what has been happening in Egypt.  With all the instability, “Calvinball” politics, lawlessness, and massive economic as well as social problems, Egypt is the biggest and most significant long-term challenge for the United States in the Middle East. Read more »