Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

The New Arab Cold War

by Steven A. Cook Friday, August 29, 2014
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) talks with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal (R) after arriving at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah June 27, 2014 (POOL New/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) talks with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal (R) after arriving at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah June 27, 2014 (POOL New/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on ForeignPolicy.com on Thursday, August 28, 2014.

A bitter proxy war is being waged in the Middle East. It stretches from Iraq to Lebanon and reaches into North Africa, taking lives in the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt’s Western Desert, and now Libya. Although the nihilism of the Islamic State and the threat of other extremist groups have garnered virtually all the attention of the media and governments, this violence is the result of a nasty fight between regional powers over who will lead the Middle East. It is a blood-soaked mess that will be left to the United States to clean up. Read more »

Washington Can’t Solve the Identity Crisis in Middle East Nations

by Steven A. Cook Monday, August 18, 2014
Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing the violence in the Iraqi town of Sinjar, walk to a refugee camp after they re-enter Iraq from Syria, August 14, 2014 (Youssef Boudlal/Courtesy Reuters). Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing the violence in the Iraqi town of Sinjar, walk to a refugee camp after they re-enter Iraq from Syria, August 14, 2014 (Youssef Boudlal/Courtesy Reuters).

I published the following piece in the Outlook section of Sunday’s Washington Post. I hope you find it interesting and useful! Read more »

Weekend Reading: HRW Reports on Raba’a, Defeating IS, and Iran’s Man in Baghdad

by Steven A. Cook Friday, August 15, 2014
Shi'ite volunteers, from Abbas Unit who have joined the Iraqi army to fight against militants of the Islamic State parade down a street in Kerbala, southwest of Baghdad August 14, 2014 (Mushtaq Muhammed/Courtesy Reuters). Shi'ite volunteers, from Abbas Unit who have joined the Iraqi army to fight against militants of the Islamic State parade down a street in Kerbala, southwest of Baghdad August 14, 2014 (Mushtaq Muhammed/Courtesy Reuters).

Full text of the Human Rights Watch report on last year’s forcible dispersal of the pro-Morsi Raba’a sit-in.

Nabeel Khoury, writing for The Tahrir Forum, argues that if the United States fails to defeat the Islamic State, then Iran and Hezbollah will have to do it. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Destroying Religious Shrines, the Yazidis, and Humans of Kurdistan (as well as New York)

by Steven A. Cook Friday, August 8, 2014
A member of the Kurdish peshmerga forces sit with a weapon during an intensive security deployment against Islamic State militants in Makhmur August 7, 2014 (STRINGER Iraq/Courtesy Reuters). A member of the Kurdish peshmerga forces sit with a weapon during an intensive security deployment against Islamic State militants in Makhmur August 7, 2014 (STRINGER Iraq/Courtesy Reuters).

Mohamad Ballan explores the Islamic State’s destruction of religious shrines in historical context.

Matthew Barber reports on recent IS advances against Iraqi Kurds and the plight of the Yazidi minority. Read more »

What a Turkey!

by Steven A. Cook Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Turkey's Prime Minister and presidential candidate Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters during an election rally in Istanbul August 3, 2014 (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters). Turkey's Prime Minister and presidential candidate Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters during an election rally in Istanbul August 3, 2014 (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on Politico.com on Tuesday, August 5, 2014.

If Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan were an American politician, he would be an excellent candidate for one of Chris Cillizza’s “Worst Week in Washington” features. First, on Friday, July 19, a day after the State Department spokesperson criticized him for his frequent invocation of the Nazis to describe Israel’s behavior, Erdogan asked, “What do Americans know about Hitler?” Given that almost 200,000 young Americans died fighting in Europe during WWII, quite a lot, actually. Second, in an open and embarrassing display of just how far the cult of Erdogan’s personality has gone, the 60-year-old prime minister appeared in a friendly soccer match—wearing a bright orange uniform—and miraculously scored three goals in 15 minutes to the collective delirium of announcers, fans and opposing players from the Istanbul Basaksehir club. (It was a bit of a disappointment that he did not pull off his jersey in triumph after the hat trick; it would have given the growing Tayyip Erdogan-Vladimir Putin comparisons an additional element of absurdity.) Third, the American Jewish Congress demanded that Erdogan return the “Profiles in Courage” award the organization bestowed upon him in 2004 for his commitment to protect Turkish Jewry, combat terrorism and forge peaceful coexistence in the Middle East. The prime minister—who is also a recipient of the Muammar al-Qaddafi prize for human rights—was, in the words of Turkey’s ambassador in Washington, “glad” to return the honor. Finally, Cillizza’s colleague at the Washington Post, Richard Cohen, penned a column about Erdogan’s “Hitler fetish,” wondering whether the Turkish prime minister had lost his marbles. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Israel’s Left Wing, Islamist Rivalries, and Instability in Libya

by Steven A. Cook Friday, August 1, 2014
Fighters from the Benghazi Shura Council, which includes former rebels and militants from al Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia, gesture on top of a tank next to the camp of the special forces in Benghazi July 30, 2014 (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters). Fighters from the Benghazi Shura Council, which includes former rebels and militants from al Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia, gesture on top of a tank next to the camp of the special forces in Benghazi July 30, 2014 (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters).

Orit Bashkin examines the role of the radical Israeli left.

Ali Mamouri, writing for Al-Monitorexplores why the Islamic State and other fundamentalist Salafi groups refuse to support Hamas. Read more »

Salvaging Abbas

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, July 29, 2014
U.S. President Barack Obama walks down Cross Hall with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas September 1, 2010 (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. President Barack Obama walks down Cross Hall with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas September 1, 2010 (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on TimesOfIsrael.com on Tuesday, July 29, 2014.

Almost from the start of the conflict in the Gaza Strip, the commentariat has been seized with the idea of “empowering [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas” as the only way out of the recurrent violence between Israel and Hamas. The discovery of this idea in Washington (and Jerusalem for that matter) is rather odd, not because it does not make sense, but rather because the idea is so reasonable and obvious that one wonders why — ten years after he became the Palestinian leader — it took so long to recognize it. Almost from the moment of Yasser Arafat’s death, Egypt sent high-level emissaries to the United States, warning that the new Palestinian president needed help lest he gradually cede the political arena to Hamas. He did not get it then and now it is likely too late to salvage Abbas. Read more »