Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

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Showing posts for "Syria"

The Perplexing Problems of Solving Syria

by Steven A. Cook
Rebel fighters shoot their weapon towards Dabiq town in northern Aleppo countryside, Syria (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters). Rebel fighters shoot their weapon towards Dabiq town in northern Aleppo countryside, Syria (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters).

This article was originally published here on War on the Rocks on Monday, October 17, 2016.

What is there to say about Syria? That it is a tragedy? That only the horrors of the Holocaust, Pol Pot’s reign of terror, and Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution diminish its human toll? That the so-called international community strenuously condemns the murder of hundreds of thousands and the displacement of half of Syria’s population? These are, as so many have pointed out, merely words to salve the collective conscience of officials who have chosen to do the absolute minimum while a major Middle Eastern country burns. This tragedy was coming. It was obvious once Syrian President Bashar al-Assad militarized the uprising that began in the southern town of Deraa in March 2011. Policymakers in Washington and other capitals assured themselves — against all evidence — that it was only a matter of time before Assad fell. But anyone who knew anything about Syria understood that the Syrian leader would not succumb the way Tunisia’s Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali or Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak did. No, Assad’s ignominy is different, borne of the unfathomable amount of blood he has spilled. There was a time when this violence could have been minimized and American interests served through an intervention, but policymakers acquiesced to the arguments of those who said it was only a matter of time or, when Assad did not fall quickly, that it was too hard. Until it actually was. Now, the desperate images emerging from Aleppo have made it impossible to look away. It remains a matter of debate precisely what the Syrian air force and its Russian partners seek in Aleppo, thought it seems that they are seeking to wrest control of the eastern half of the city by flattening it from the air. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Syria’s Trauma, Tunisia’s Sayings, and Egypt’s Economic Woes

by Steven A. Cook
People who fled from Islamic State-controlled areas arrive in the northern Syrian rebel-held town of Waqf, near al-Rai town, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters). People who fled from Islamic State-controlled areas arrive in the northern Syrian rebel-held town of Waqf, near al-Rai town, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters).

Peter Harling delves into the political and psychological trauma that the Syrian conflict’s victims and fighters suffer from.

Inel Tarfa guides readers through the world of Tunisian sayings and proverbs. Read more »

Summer of Sadism

by Steven A. Cook
People ride a bus to be evacuated from the besieged Damascus suburb of Daraya, after an agreement reached on Thursday between rebels and Syria's army (Omar Sanadiki/Reuters). People ride a bus to be evacuated from the besieged Damascus suburb of Daraya, after an agreement reached on Thursday between rebels and Syria's army (Omar Sanadiki/Reuters).

I love the summer. When I was a kid, beginning around April 1, I would start counting down the days until I went to camp. As an adult, summer has always been the season when I can turn back the clock and be a little less adult. The Tuesday after Labor Day is just another day in the calendar and the weather is often no different from the day or month before, but for me, it is the most vile day of the year—it marks the end of summer. Read more »

Weekend Reading and Listening: Syria’s Druze, How to Define the Caliphate, and an Open Letter to Middle Eastern Governments

by Steven A. Cook
Druze clerics attend the funeral ceremony of top Druze cleric Sheikh Ahmed Salman al-Hajri in al-Suwayda city (Khaled al-Hariri/Reuters). Druze clerics attend the funeral ceremony of top Druze cleric Sheikh Ahmed Salman al-Hajri in al-Suwayda city (Khaled al-Hariri/Reuters).

Talal El Atrache explores how the Druze, who have never joined the Syrian rebellion, have navigated the conflict so far.

Taylan Gungor interviews Hugh Kennedy for Ottoman History Podcast to discuss the changing definitions of the term “caliphate” throughout history. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Inside the Islamic State, the Decline of Lebanon, and Sectarianism in Syria Again

by Steven A. Cook
People attend a demonstration against sectarianism, also calling for abolishing curfews put on Syrian refugees in Beirut, Lebanon (Mohamed Azakir/Reuters). People attend a demonstration against sectarianism, also calling for abolishing curfews put on Syrian refugees in Beirut, Lebanon (Mohamed Azakir/Reuters).

Jassim Muhammad, writing for Majallah, presents an inside look into the self-declared Islamic State through the testimony of a senior defector. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Libyan Identity, an Alawite State, and Cairo’s Ramadan Lanterns

by Steven A. Cook
A woman with her daughter look at a stall selling festival lights and Ramadan lanterns, or "fanoos Ramadan", at Sayida Zienab district market during the first day of Ramadan in old Cairo, Egypt (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters). A woman with her daughter look at a stall selling festival lights and Ramadan lanterns, or "fanoos Ramadan", at Sayida Zienab district market during the first day of Ramadan in old Cairo, Egypt (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters).

Nada Elfeituri discusses the politics of identity and tribalism in Libya as civil strife continues to unfold.

Stefan Winter examines a 1936 pro–Syrian unity petition by Sulayman al-Asad, grandfather of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who pushed against the creation of an Alawite state. Read more »

Weekend Reading: The Sarona Attacks, the Islamic State’s Factions, and What Is Ahrar al-Sham?

by Steven A. Cook
Relatives and friends mourn during the funeral of Ido Ben Ari, one of four Israelis who was killed in an Palestinian shooting attack in Tel Aviv, at a cemetery in Yavne, Israel (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters). Relatives and friends mourn during the funeral of Ido Ben Ari, one of four Israelis who was killed in an Palestinian shooting attack in Tel Aviv, at a cemetery in Yavne, Israel (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters).

J. J. Goldberg dissects the nature of the recent terrorist attack in Tel Aviv that killed four.

Tore Hamming examines the different ideological strains within the Islamic State group, focusing on its “extremist” wing. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Tunisia’s Beggars, Post-Islamist Islamists, and Assyrians in Syria

by Steven A. Cook
2016Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi (L), talks with Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the Islamist Ennahda movement, during the congress of the Ennahda Movement in Tunis, Tunisia (Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters). 2016Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi (L), talks with Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the Islamist Ennahda movement, during the congress of the Ennahda Movement in Tunis, Tunisia (Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters).

Inel Tarfa interviews street beggars in Tunis, who express a complete lack of faith in the Tunisian government.

Nervana Mahmoud remains skeptical of Rachid al-Ghannouchi’s plan to divorce political Islam from his Tunisian Islamist party Ennahda. Read more »

Weekend Reading: The Folly of Iraqi Partition, Turkey’s New Prime Minister, and Geopolitical Shiism

by Steven A. Cook
Tribesmen loyal to the Houthi movement perform the Baraa dance during a gathering to show support to the movement in Sanaa, Yemen (Khaled Abdullah/Reuters). Tribesmen loyal to the Houthi movement perform the Baraa dance during a gathering to show support to the movement in Sanaa, Yemen (Khaled Abdullah/Reuters).

Ben Connable contends that persistent arguments to partition Iraq are often incoherent and offer weak solutions.

Murat Yetkin profiles Turkey’s presumptive new prime minister, Binali Yildirim, who was formerly the minister of transportation. Read more »