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 "Terrorism"

What Should the U.S. Do About ISIS?

by Steven A. Cook
Shi'ite paramilitaries and iraqi army riding on a tank travel from Lake Tharthar towards Ramadi to fight against Islamic state militants, west of Samarra, Iraq May 27, 2015 (Stringer/Reuters). Shi'ite paramilitaries and iraqi army riding on a tank travel from Lake Tharthar towards Ramadi to fight against Islamic state militants, west of Samarra, Iraq May 27, 2015 (Stringer/Reuters).

This article originally appeared here on NationalJournal.com on Saturday, June 13, 2015.

The policy debate would be more productive if we asked ourselves what we should not do about ISIS. Having made the world safe for democracy in the 20th century, Americans are naturally disposed to want to meet great ideological challenges. But the struggle against ISIS is a political and theological fight that is largely beyond the United States. The group is successful at this moment because of a series of failures—of the Iraq project that began in 2003, of the Arab republics, of the Arab uprisings, of the Muslim Brotherhood’s experiment with governance, of shortsighted policy in Libya—that have made its claims about authenticity, citizenship, and religion attractive to young men and women grappling with these failures. At the same time, there are millions of Arabs and Muslims who do not want to live in ISIS-land, and who have begun to respond to the threat that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi represents. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Rediscovering Saddam, Revisiting Tunisia’s Democracy, and Reviewing the Islamic State

by Steven A. Cook
Saddam Hussein testifies during his trial in Baghdad, Iraq, June 12, 2006 (Jacob Silberberg/Reuters). Saddam Hussein testifies during his trial in Baghdad, Iraq, June 12, 2006 (Jacob Silberberg/Reuters).

Victor Argo revisits the persona of longtime Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Nadia Marzouki and Hamza Meddeb question the assumptions behind the claim that Tunisia is a democratic success story. Read more »

Weekend Reading: A Return to Idlib, Secular Politics in Egypt, and al-Qaeda in Syria

by Steven A. Cook
Civilians react as they wear gas masks after what activists said was a chlorine gas attack on Kansafra village at Idlib countryside, Syria (Abed Kontar/Courtesy Reuters). Civilians react as they wear gas masks after what activists said was a chlorine gas attack on Kansafra village at Idlib countryside, Syria (Abed Kontar/Courtesy Reuters).

Ahmad al-Akla writes about people’s return to rebel-controlled Idlib, Syria.

A new party in Egypt calls for a secular constitution. Read more »

Weekend Reading: The Horrors of Yarmouk, IS Relief, Judicial Reform in Tunisia

by Steven A. Cook
Palestinians from the besieged al-Yarmouk camp gather as they receive food aid from UNRWA May 1, 2014 (Rame Alsayed/Courtesy Reuters). Palestinians from the besieged al-Yarmouk camp gather as they receive food aid from UNRWA May 1, 2014 (Rame Alsayed/Courtesy Reuters).

Rami Alhames shows the disturbing situation in the Yarmouk Palestinian Refugee Camp.

Hussam al-Jaber offers a glimpse into Deir al-Zor, Syria, under the self-proclaimed Islamic State’s harsh rules on aid and relief. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Wasting Capital on a New Capital, Jihadism in Tunisia, and Israel’s Election

by Steven A. Cook
A model of a planned new capital for Egypt is displayed for investors during the final day of Egypt Economic Development Conference (EEDC) in Sharm el-Sheikh (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). A model of a planned new capital for Egypt is displayed for investors during the final day of Egypt Economic Development Conference (EEDC) in Sharm el-Sheikh (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

Khaled Fahmy criticizes the Egyptian government’s plan to invest money in building a new capital rather than fixing Cairo’s endemic problems.

Simon Cordall investigates the social and intellectual appeal of jihadism in Tunisia. Read more »

Ankara on Paris: Disturbingly Equivocal

by Steven A. Cook
French President Francois Hollande is surrounded by head of states including (LtoR) Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Council President Donald Tusk, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, King Abdullah of Jordan and Queen Rania Al Abdullah as they attend the solidarity march (Marche Republicaine) in the streets of Paris (Yves Herman/Courtesy Reuters). French President Francois Hollande is surrounded by head of states including (LtoR) Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Council President Donald Tusk, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, King Abdullah of Jordan and Queen Rania Al Abdullah as they attend the solidarity march (Marche Republicaine) in the streets of Paris (Yves Herman/Courtesy Reuters).

I have been reluctant to comment on the attacks in Paris. As with a whole host of people who have popped up on television to make sense of last week’s violence, terrorism and European Muslim communities are not my areas of expertise. There has also been so much excellent written commentary on the topic that even if I were inclined to write, I would not have much to add. That said, I find the Turkish leadership’s response to the events in France striking. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu took part in the solidarity rally in Paris on Sunday, but among the near universal denunciation of the Charlie Hebdo massacre and subsequent killings at the Hyper Cache market, the Turkish reaction was disturbingly equivocal. In a public statement after the assault on the magazine, the foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu declared, “Terrorism and all types of Islamophobia perpetuate each other and we stand against this.” It is hard to disagree. Islamophobia, of which there is much in Europe and the United States, is bad, and terrorism is bad. Both are scourges that need to be fought, albeit in different ways. And while Davutoglu was more direct in his condemnation, cloaked in Cavusoglu’s outrage against anti-Muslim bias and terrorism, the foreign minister was saying something else entirely: The people targeted specifically in the Charlie Hebdo attack were Islamophobes who brought Cherif and Said Kouachi on themselves, producing a cycle of more Islamophobia and thus more violence. More broadly, Cavusoglu was signaling that the West is to blame for terror because it is irredeemably anti-Islam. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Fighting Assad And ISIS, The Islamic State Before The Islamic State, and Libya’s Draft Constitution

by Steven A. Cook
A man holds a bandage to his head at a field hospital after being injured in what activists said was an air strike by the forces of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the Duma neighbourhood of Damascus January 4, 2015 (Badra Mamet/Courtesy Reuters). A man holds a bandage to his head at a field hospital after being injured in what activists said was an air strike by the forces of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the Duma neighbourhood of Damascus January 4, 2015 (Badra Mamet/Courtesy Reuters).

Ruslan Trad interviews Abu Ibrahim al-Raqqawi, a Raqqa-based Syrian activist fighting both the Assad regime and ISIS.

Kevin Jackson investigates a jihadist caliphate that existed prior to ISIS. Read more »

Weekend Reading: The Classics And The Middle East, ISIS vs. AQAP, and How Jihadi Groups Make Law

by Steven A. Cook
A Shi'ite Houthi mans a weapon on the back of a patrol truck, as Ansar al-Sharia flags are seen in the background November 22, 2014 (Mohamed al-Sayaghi/Courtesy Reuters). A Shi'ite Houthi mans a weapon on the back of a patrol truck, as Ansar al-Sharia flags are seen in the background November 22, 2014 (Mohamed al-Sayaghi/Courtesy Reuters).

Andrew Gilmour argues that the study of classics is useful to understanding contemporary power struggles in the modern Middle East.

Cole Bunzel discusses the rivalry between ISIS and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) playing out in Yemen. Read more »

Weekend Reading: No Way to Defeat Takfiris, Handicapping Turkey’s Elections, and Syria’s borders.

by Steven A. Cook
Supporters of Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan wave Turkish and AK Party (AKP) flags during an election rally in Istanbul March 23, 2014 (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters). Supporters of Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan wave Turkish and AK Party (AKP) flags during an election rally in Istanbul March 23, 2014 (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters).

Nader Bakkar says that harsh punishment, such as the recent wave of death sentences on Muslim Brotherhood members, is no way to combat radical takfiri ideology. Read more »

Saudi, The MB, and The Politics of Terrorism

by Steven A. Cook
A supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, wearing a headband that reads "We all are Rabaa", takes part in a protest against the military and interior ministry (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). A supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, wearing a headband that reads "We all are Rabaa", takes part in a protest against the military and interior ministry (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

Last Friday, the Saudi government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, lumping the Brothers in with Jabhat al Nusra, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and al Qaeda.   The announcement was not terribly surprising.  Riyadh has proven to be Cairo’s staunchest patron since the July 3 coup d’état and both governments have led the effort to delegitimize the Brotherhood ever since.  This actually has much more to do with politics than it does with terrorism, which prompted me to tweet: Read more »