Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

One Hundred Years After Gallipoli

by Steven A. Cook Friday, April 24, 2015
Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, with a portrait of modern Turkey's founder Ataturk in the background, works at his office at the AK Party headquarters in Ankara June 13, 2011 (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters). Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, with a portrait of modern Turkey's founder Ataturk in the background, works at his office at the AK Party headquarters in Ankara June 13, 2011 (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on ForeignAffairs.com on Thursday, April 23, 2015.

On April 25, 1915, when British, French, and Australian and New Zealand troops landed on the strategic Gallipoli Peninsula, their objective was to knock out Ottoman defenses and make way for Allied navies to steam up the Dardanelles strait toward Istanbul. It was a risky and costly endeavor that culminated in their total retreat eight months later. For Gallipoli’s defenders, who lost 86,692 men, the battle was an important victory in defense of the Ottoman Empire. Paradoxically, it also became a touchstone of the nationalism that was so important to the establishment of the Republic of Turkey less than a decade later. Likewise, celebrations planned for the battle’s centenary reflect the tension between the valorization of the Ottoman era and the hallowed memory of Mustafa Kemal—Ataturk—modern Turkey’s founder. In many ways, the memory of Gallipoli is still shaping, and is being shaped by, the country’s political trajectory. Read more »

The King of the Arab Street vs. the Pope

by Steven A. Cook Wednesday, April 22, 2015
Pope Francis and Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan prepare to leave after a press conference at the presidential palace in Ankara November 28, 2014 (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters). Pope Francis and Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan prepare to leave after a press conference at the presidential palace in Ankara November 28, 2014 (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on Foreign Policy‘s website on Wednesday, April 22, 2015.

As the world commemorates the centennial of the Armenian genocide this week, Turkey’s government once again finds itself fighting an old, losing battle. According to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, the recent spate of calls to recognize the genocide is the work of an “evil gang” bent on slandering the country’s honor. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Overplaying Sectarianism in Yemen, Iraqi Cinema, and Peacemaking in Oman

by Steven A. Cook Friday, April 10, 2015
A Saudi border guard patrols near Saudi Arabia's border with Yemen, along a beach on the Red Sea, near Jizan (Faisal Al Nasser/Courtesy Reuters). A Saudi border guard patrols near Saudi Arabia's border with Yemen, along a beach on the Red Sea, near Jizan (Faisal Al Nasser/Courtesy Reuters).

Abubakr al-Shamahi’s blog post on the misuse of the terms “Sunni” and “Shia” in the context of Yemen remains as pertinent today as it was when he published it a year ago. Read more »

Neither Shocked nor Awed: The Arab Reaction to the Iran Deal

by Guest Blogger for Steven A. Cook Thursday, April 9, 2015
Saudi King Salman attends the opening meeting of the Arab Summit in Sharm el-Sheikh (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters). Saudi King Salman attends the opening meeting of the Arab Summit in Sharm el-Sheikh (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters).

My research associate, Amr Leheta, wrote this terrific post on the Arab reaction to the framework agreement between the P5+1 and Iran. Enjoy!

“The Nuclear Agreement…A Strategic Earthquake in the Middle East” read one headline in a London-based, pan-Arab newspaper on April 4. In the article underneath, published a couple of days after the announcement of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding Iran’s nuclear program, the editorial board of Al-Quds Al-Arabi wrote the following: Read more »

No Way Out

by Steven A. Cook Wednesday, April 8, 2015
Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters). Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on the American Interest’s website on Tuesday, April 7, 2015. 

It is eight weeks before Turkey’s general elections, the end of a stretch that has lasted a little more than a year during which Turks will have gone to the polls three times to elect their Mayors, President, and now legislators. The extended electoral season, made difficult by Turkey’s polarization, has not dampened the Istanbul-Ankara elite’s appetite for rank speculation, however. In years past, much of this chatter centered on parties and politicians who were going to save Turkey from whatever crisis of governance had befallen the country. There was the businessman Cem Uzan and his Youth Party in 2002; the dream team of Ismail Cem and Kemal Dervis, who were going to lead the New Turkey Party to victory also in 2002; Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the man to reverse the slide of the Republican People’s Party into the party of Izmir and certain Istanbul neighborhoods; and, of course, Abdullah Gul, the man to wrest control of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) from Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Uzan, however, was convicted of fraud in the United States and now lives in France, the New Turkey Party received a paltry 1.2 percent of the vote, Kilicdaroglu has presided over one defeat after the next, and Gul moved quietly from Ankara’s Cankaya Palace to Istanbul, where he seems to be enjoying retirement. So much for saving Turkey. Read more »

Washington and Cairo: Goodbye My Love, Goodbye

by Steven A. Cook Monday, April 6, 2015
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi attends the opening meeting of the Arab Summit in Sharm el-Sheikh (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi attends the opening meeting of the Arab Summit in Sharm el-Sheikh (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

Last Tuesday afternoon the National Security Council announced that the Obama administration was releasing the long-delayed shipments of M1A1 tank kits, Harpoon missiles, and F-16 fighter jets to the Egyptian armed forces. The decision proved to be immediately controversial and was swiftly denounced on social media as “back to business as usual” with the Egyptians. It certainly seems that way. Reportedly, the administration based its decision on Egypt’s own deteriorating security situation, which has coincided with wars raging in Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. The regional political environment may be novel, but the White House’s rationale—security—is reminiscent of a time in the not so distant past when Washington only raised Egypt’s dismal human rights record in a perfunctory way. The most important things then (and now) were keeping the Suez Canal open, the Islamists down, and the peace with Israel secure. Yet for all of the apparent continuities in Washington’s approach to Egypt’s president, from Hosni Mubarak to Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, it is not back to business as usual, and that’s not because the administration will be cutting off Cairo’s access to cash flow financing—a credit card for weapons—in fiscal year 2018. Rather, it is not business as usual because business as usual is not really an option. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Iran and Us, Idlib and Assad, Libya and the Abyss

by Steven A. Cook Friday, April 3, 2015
Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif gestures as he speaks during a news conference at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne on April 2, 2015, after Iran nuclear program talks finished with extended sessions (Brendan Smialowski/Courtesy Reuters). Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif gestures as he speaks during a news conference at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne on April 2, 2015, after Iran nuclear program talks finished with extended sessions (Brendan Smialowski/Courtesy Reuters).

Read the full text of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the framework agreement between the P5+1, the European Union, and Iran regarding the Iranian nuclear program.

Aron Lund considers the strategic value of Idlib to Syria’s anti-Assad rebels. Read more »

The Weirdness of Ross Douthat’s Pax Americana

by Steven A. Cook Monday, March 30, 2015
U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani addres a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House (Gary Cameron/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani addres a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House (Gary Cameron/Courtesy Reuters).

Way back when before the 2008 presidential elections, some Democratic Party foreign policy operatives put together a series of seminars near Jacksonville, Florida at a place called White Oak Plantation. From what I understand, the idea was to bring some folks together to work through the difficult and complex issues facing the United States in the post–George W. Bush world. A few friends who work on Asia, Europe, and international economic issues took part in what sounded like a series of interesting weekends. To my knowledge, the people behind the White Oak meetings never organized a discussion on the Middle East because—according to a buddy of mine who attended one of the sessions—they did not feel the need to; they said they could just read about the region in the papers. I remember feeling the professional slight on behalf of all my Middle East expert colleagues everywhere and a little surprised. Although there were exceptions, the Bush team as a group did not distinguish themselves with a firm grasp of the history, politics, and culture of the region. Surely, I thought, the people preparing and hoping to lead the country for the next eight years—at least—would want to avoid making similar mistakes. Then again, there is the widely held perception that for all that Middle East analysts know about the region, policy recommendations are not their strong suit. So why not rely on what foreign correspondents and columnists have to say? Their record cannot be any worse, right? All of this came to mind on Sunday morning when I cast my gaze upon Ross Douthat’s Sunday column in the New York Times, “The Method to Obama’s Middle East Mess.” Read more »

Weekend Reading: Wahhabism and ISIS, the Yemeni State, and the State of Yemen

by Steven A. Cook Friday, March 27, 2015
A boy sits at the site of an air strike at a residential area near Sanaa Airport (Khaled Abdullah/Courtesy Reuters). A boy sits at the site of an air strike at a residential area near Sanaa Airport (Khaled Abdullah/Courtesy Reuters).

Lorenzo Kamel examines how the Wahhabi establishment in Saudi Arabia attempts to differentiate itself from the ideology of ISIS.

Jay Ulfelder finds that recent events in Yemen challenges traditional conceptions of the state and the international system. Read more »