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"

Our Man in the Middle East: The Confusing Worldview of Trump Aide Derek Harvey

by Steven A. Cook
U.S. President Donald Trump leaves the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) headquarters accompanied by National security adviser General Michael Flynn (2nd L) after delivering remarks during a visit in Langley, Virginia (Carlos Barria/Reuters).

This article was originally published here on on Sunday, February 12, 2017.

Even since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990, the Middle East has been the central focus of American security and foreign policy. The United States maintains bases or access to facilities throughout the region. Its largest diplomatic post in the world is located in Iraq. American diplomats have spent countless hours encouraging democracy in Egypt and many more trying to forge peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The U.S. government has supported civil society in Tunisia and trained rebels in Syria. And the American defense industry sells billions of dollars worth of weapons to the region annually. Read more »

Violence for Violence’s Sake

by Steven A. Cook
A nun cries as she stands at the scene inside Cairo's Coptic cathedral, following a bombing, in Egypt (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters).

Last weekend was terrible. There were terrorist attacks in Cairo, Istanbul, Mogadishu, Aden, and Maiduguri in Nigeria, killing close to two hundred people. When the news broke of the attack in Cairo, I was spending time with family and friends, one of whom asked me if I was going to be on TV talking about what had happened there and in Istanbul. I am not sure what there was to say. That Egypt and Turkey are under attack? That both countries are unstable? Speculate about the most likely suspects? This ritual seems so banal when friends in both cities are marking themselves “safe” on Facebook. 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).

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

Is Turkey Really at the Table?

by Steven A. Cook
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C) delivers opening remarks at in a working session on the global economy with fellow world leaders at the start of the G20 summit at the Regnum Carya Resort in Antalya, Turkey, November 15, 2015 (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters).

This article originally appeared here on on Tuesday, November 24, 2015.

To Westerners, it might seem that Vladimir Putin was exaggerating in anger when, after a Turkish F-16 on Tuesday shot down a Russian fighter jet allegedly violating Turkish airspace, he referred to the government in Ankara as “terrorists’ accomplices.” Read more »

Repost: What Should the U.S. Do About ISIS?

by Steven A. Cook
A passerby pauses near a makeshift memorial with U.S. and French flags outside the French embassy in Washington November 16, 2015 (Carlos Barria/Reuters).

Last June, I participated in a National Journal symposium asking, “What Should the U.S. Do About ISIS?” After last Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris, for which the self-proclaimed Islamic State has claimed responsibility, I went back and looked at what I wrote. My bottom line was this: The United States has a responsibility to its allies, but policymakers should understand that bringing military force to bear on the Islamic State will not alone resolve the problem. The phenomenon of Islamist extremism is first and foremost a political and theological challenge that Washington barely understands; this part of the fight is best left to Arabs and Muslims. Have a look at what I wrote. I believe it stands up pretty well. Feel free to let me know what you think. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Ramlat Bulaq, Bedouin Poetry, and the Islamic State vs. Israel

by Steven A. Cook
A small cruise boat passes Nile City Towers, which is owned by Naguib Sawiris the owner of Orascom Telecom, overlooking the river Nile in Cairo June 7, 2013 (Asmaa Waguih/Reuters).

Omnia Khalil reviews the struggles of everyday life in the Cairene neighborhood of Ramlat Bulaq.

William Tamplin takes a look at Jordan’s most popular Bedouin poet and his use of verse to express Arab political arguments. Read more »

Turkey. At War. With Itself.

by Steven A. Cook
Gray clouds over Istanbul (Photo by Steven Cook).

In his famous and much-criticized 1993 Foreign Affairs article, “The Clash of Civilizations,” the late Samuel Huntington described Turkey as a “torn country.” For Huntington there is an irreconcilable difference between the Western-style political institutions of the Republic of Turkey and the Islamic cultural and civilizational foundations of Turkish society. It was a controversial assertion in a controversial article, though Turkey’s current prime minister (and political scientist), Ahmet Davutoglu, made a similar claim in his 1984 dissertation. I disagree with both professors. Turkey may not be “torn” in the way that Huntington and Davutoglu believe, but it is tearing itself apart in a war with itself. Read more »

Overstating the Islamic State

by Steven A. Cook
A man rides a motorcycle with a child in the historical city of Palmyra, September 30, 2010 (Nour Fourat/Reuters).

Ever since the self-declared Islamic State overran Mosul in June 2014, virtually everyone has made it fairly clear in mostly unintended ways that we do not understand a lot about the group. Perhaps that is a bit unfair. There are a number of talented scholars who have done great work on the origins and worldview of the Islamic State. Both Will McCants and Dan Byman have new books on the group and Aaron Zelin has long been a terrific resource on all things extremist. Their work should help Washington understand how to meet the challenge the Islamic State presents, yet I keep hearing the same things about the Islamic State that I have been hearing since everyone discovered it and rediscovered Iraq fifteen months ago. One of the most dissatisfying is this, or some variation of it: “The Islamic State cannot provide services in the areas that it controls thereby sowing the seeds of its own demise.” This strikes me as one of those things that make a lot of sense to those of us here, but seems erroneous in the context of the Islamic State. It is pretty clear to me that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi does not care about guaranteeing services, that failing to provide things like electricity will not actually undermine the Islamic State, and that the inability (or unwillingness) to extend services to people living in IS-land does not make it all that different from any number of states in Middle East. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Condemning or Condoning Egypt,Urban Redevelopment in Alexandria, and Linking ISIS?

by Steven A. Cook
A boy holds a Tunisian flag as he stands near bouquets of flowers laid at the beachside of the Imperiale Marhabada hotel, which was attacked by a gunman in Sousse, Tunisia (Zohra Bensemra/Reuters).

Maged Atiya writes that, two years after, the removal of former President of Egypt Mohammed Morsi is as difficult to condemn as it is to condone.

Amro Ali examines the debate on urban development in Alexandria and the rebuilding of that city’s famed lighthouse. Read more »

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).

This article originally appeared here on 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 »