Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

The Tin-Pot Dictatorships of Egypt and Turkey

by Steven A. Cook Monday, December 15, 2014
Zaman editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanli, surrounded by his colleagues and plainclothes police officers (C), reacts as he leaves the headquarters of Zaman daily newspaper in Istanbul (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters). Zaman editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanli, surrounded by his colleagues and plainclothes police officers (C), reacts as he leaves the headquarters of Zaman daily newspaper in Istanbul (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters).

Supporters of the governments of Egypt and Turkey have become adept at telling the world that under presidents Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Recep Tayyip Erdogan respectively, these countries are making progress toward more open and just political systems. In reality, they are nothing more than tin-pot dictatorships. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Egypt’s Spider-Man, Ottomania, and Iraq’s Militias

by Steven A. Cook Friday, December 12, 2014
Turkish faithful pray in Ottoman-era Sultanahmet mosque, known as Blue mosque, on "Laylat Al Qadr" during the holy month of Ramadan, in Istanbul late July 23, 2014 (Yagiz Karahan/Courtesy Reuters). Turkish faithful pray in Ottoman-era Sultanahmet mosque, known as Blue mosque, on "Laylat Al Qadr" during the holy month of Ramadan, in Istanbul late July 23, 2014 (Yagiz Karahan/Courtesy Reuters).

Browse through Hossam Atef’s photo gallery, the photographer known as Antikka who recently made headlines with his latest project, “SpiderMan At Egypt.”

Pinar Tremblay investigates the discriminatory effects of introducing Ottoman Turkish to the national curriculum. Read more »

Making War In Iraq

by Steven A. Cook Monday, December 8, 2014
A member of the Kurdish "peshmerga" forces takes part in an intensive security deployment after clashes with Islamic State militants in Jalawla, Diyala province (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters). A member of the Kurdish "peshmerga" forces takes part in an intensive security deployment after clashes with Islamic State militants in Jalawla, Diyala province (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters).

It was sort of amazing back in August when President Barack Obama went before the White House press corps and publicly declared, “We don’t have a strategy yet” when it came to combating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). He was pilloried in a collective freak-out that crossed partisan lines. The president probably should not have said what he said given what he must now know about the press, his opponents, and his previous, ill-considered comments about post-Bin Laden extremist groups being “JV.” That said, admitting that his administration had not yet determined how to meet the ISIS threat was also sort of prudent. “Strategy” and “strategic” are among the most misused and abused words in Washington, and given the complex and unprecedented problems that are consuming Iraq and Syria, it was a good idea for the administration to take a step back and ask a number of basic questions before settling on its goals and determining the resources necessary to meet those objectives. For example, what resources were available to the United States? What are ISIS’ goals? What can regional allies do? How might regional adversaries react to various courses of action? What are reasonable goals for the United States? How will the American people respond to different approaches? Instead, as I wrote last September, the president was bullied into bombing ISIS after James Foley was beheaded, leaving the Pentagon, White House, and State Department to figure out a strategy on the fly. It was no way to go to war. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Syrian Deals, Tunisia’s Libya, and Israeli Elections

by Steven A. Cook Friday, December 5, 2014
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to a session of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem (Ronen Zvulun/Courtesy Reuters). Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to a session of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem (Ronen Zvulun/Courtesy Reuters).

Yezid Sayegh, in an interview with Syria Deeply, argues that a deteriorating situation in Syria may incentivize some rebels to strike a deal with the Assad regime. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Mubarak Acquitted, (Another) Tunisian Uprising, and Iraq’s Flags

by Steven A. Cook Saturday, November 29, 2014
A supporter of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak celebrates in front of Maadi military hospital after Mubarak returned to the hospital following the verdict of his trial in Cairo (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters). A supporter of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak celebrates in front of Maadi military hospital after Mubarak returned to the hospital following the verdict of his trial in Cairo (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters).

Hossam Bahgat sheds some light on the verdict acquitting former President Hosni Mubarak of charges against him.

Sam Kimball and Nicholas Linn contend that despite Tunisia’s recent elections, the country could be headed for another uprising. Read more »

The President Who Ate Turkey

by Steven A. Cook Friday, November 28, 2014
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference in Riga October 23, 2014 (Ints Kalnins/Courtesy Reuters). Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference in Riga October 23, 2014 (Ints Kalnins/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on Politico.com on Thursday, November 27, 2014.

Without fail every year, starting around November 10, my #Turkey Twitter feed is jammed with not just the latest news from Ankara and Istanbul, but also Auntie Jean’s turkey recipe and suggestions about how to deep fry the bird without blowing up your house. And every year, on behalf of Turks and Turkey scholars the world over, I plaintively ask the tweeting masses to change #Turkey to #Turkiye, the actual Turkish name for the country that borders Greece, Bulgaria, Iran, Iraq and Syria—alas, with no success. Read more »

Weekend Reading: After Sultan Qaboos, Bahrain Goes To The Polls, and Saudi Arabia’s Elites

by Steven A. Cook Saturday, November 22, 2014
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) meets with Oman's Sultan Qaboos bin Said at Bait Al Baraka in Muscat, Oman, May 21, 2013 (Jim Young/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) meets with Oman's Sultan Qaboos bin Said at Bait Al Baraka in Muscat, Oman, May 21, 2013 (Jim Young/Courtesy Reuters).

Georgia Travers considers the implications of rumors about Sultan Qaboos’ health on Omani political society.

Faten Bushehri assesses the state of Bahrain on the eve of its parliamentary elections. Read more »

Turkey And The United States: Death By A Thousand Slights

by Steven A. Cook Friday, November 21, 2014
U.S. President Barack Obama hosts a bilateral meeting with Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan during the NATO Summit at the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, Wales September 5, 2014 (Larry Downing/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. President Barack Obama hosts a bilateral meeting with Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan during the NATO Summit at the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, Wales September 5, 2014 (Larry Downing/Courtesy Reuters).

The relationship between the United States and Turkey has hit the skids. The controversy over Kobani has revealed deep fissures and deep mistrust between Washington and Ankara. It is true that U.S.-Turkish ties were never easy. Beyond the gauzy rhetoric of fighting and dying together in Korea and standing shoulder-to-shoulder to counter the Soviet threat, there was a war of words between President Lyndon Johnson and Turkish Prime Minister Ismet Inonu over Cyprus, and then after the Turks invaded the island in 1974, Washington imposed an arms embargo on Ankara. In between and even in the years after the United States lifted the sanctions on Turkey, mistrust was a constant feature of the relationship. No doubt some Turkey watchers will claim that if bilateral ties survived the difficult period of the 1960s and 1970s, there is no reason to believe that relations will be permanently impaired now, but that is a lazy argument. The factors that drove the strategic relationship—the Soviet Union, Middle East peacemaking, Turkey’s EU project, and soft landings in the Arab world—no longer exist. At the same time, the accumulated evidence from recent experience in Syria, Israel-Palestine, Egypt, and Iraq indicate that Washington and Ankara simply have different goals. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Egypt’s Informers, Algeria’s Political Complexities, and The Non-Intifada

by Steven A. Cook Friday, November 14, 2014
A supporter of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi shouts slogans against the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups, after the collection signatures for a petition in downtown Cairo (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). A supporter of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi shouts slogans against the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups, after the collection signatures for a petition in downtown Cairo (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

Belal Fadl characterizes Egypt as a state-sponsored nation of informers.

Anna Jacobs explores the complexities of the Algerian political system. Read more »