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 "U.S. Foreign Policy"

Middle East Derangement Syndrome: Egypt, Turkey and Israel Have All Fallen Prey to Delusions About Trump

by Steven A. Cook
Donald Trump arrives on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington before his inauguration (Win McNamee/Pool/Reuters). Donald Trump arrives on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington before his inauguration (Win McNamee/Pool/Reuters).

This article was originally published here on Salon.com on Sunday, January 22, 2017. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Middle Eastern Comic Art, Relocating the U.S. Embassy in Israel, and Egypt’s IMF Deal

by Steven A. Cook
A man browses a selection of Islamic books at a shop in the old city of Cairo (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters). A man browses a selection of Islamic books at a shop in the old city of Cairo (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters).

Jonathan Guyer explores the history of comic and caricature art in the Arab world and its role in Middle Eastern society.

Michael Koplow examines the costly nuances of moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Read more »

The Misplaced Optimism of the Two-State Solution

by Steven A. Cook
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks on Middle East peace at the Department of State in Washington (James Lawler Duggan/Reuters). U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks on Middle East peace at the Department of State in Washington (James Lawler Duggan/Reuters).

In the spring of 1991, when I was a research assistant for the director of studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, I met Joseph J. Sisco. Long-since retired, he had been the assistant secretary of state for the Near East and South Asia and undersecretary of state for political affairs. Among other things, Mr. Sisco (as I called him, even though he told me to use “Joe”) played an important role in Middle East diplomacy in the late 1960s and the first half of the 1970s. I was fortunate that Mr. Sisco took an interest in me. He was generous with his time, and on the few occasions that I published op-eds, he was gracious enough to offer his comments and encouragement. I remember some years later I ran into him on the DC Metro. This was just about the time when the Oslo process was starting to come undone by waves of suicide bombers attacking buses in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and other Israeli cities. After greeting each other, I asked Mr. Sisco what he thought about the prospects for continued progress in the context of such gruesome bloodshed. He replied, “Steven, you always have to be optimistic.” That was the last time I saw him in person; he died in late 2004. I am afraid if Mr. Sisco were still alive, his perspective would likely be darker than it was that day aboard the Red Line, especially after the spectacle of this past week. Read more »

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 »

Libya: Cameron, Sarkozy, and (Obama’s) Iraq

by Steven A. Cook
A member of Libyan forces prays as he prepares with his comrades for next advance against Islamic State holdouts in Sirte, Libya (Ismail Zitouny/Reuters). A member of Libyan forces prays as he prepares with his comrades for next advance against Islamic State holdouts in Sirte, Libya (Ismail Zitouny/Reuters).

There is a lot going on this week given that Tuesday marks the beginning of the United Nations General Assembly’s annual general debate. I cannot actually remember when something substantive happened during these meetings, but hopefully this year will be different as world leaders gather ahead of the debate for a summit called “Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants.” Read more »

Turkey Is No Longer a Reliable Ally

by Steven A. Cook
Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan during their meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia (Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters). Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan during their meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia (Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters).

This article was originally published here in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday, August 11, 2016.

The meeting this week between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin and their vow to expand bilateral relations is the latest sign of deteriorating U.S.-Turkish relations since Turkey’s failed coup last month. Read more »

Turkey’s Failed Coup and the United States

by Steven A. Cook
Members of Patriotic Party shout slogans as they demonstrate against the visit of U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph F. Dunford in front of the U.S. Embassy in Ankara (Umit Bektas/Reuters). Members of Patriotic Party shout slogans as they demonstrate against the visit of U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph F. Dunford in front of the U.S. Embassy in Ankara (Umit Bektas/Reuters).

Ever since Turkey’s failed coup, the pro-government media has pointed the finger at the United States for actually planning the military intervention. It is not just the media, however. The leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (quoted below) and a number of government figures have all insinuated that the failed coup was carried out with Washington’s support and/or planning. This week, a Turkish parliamentary delegation is visiting Washington, DC, and New York City to press the Turkish government’s case on the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, the Turkish cleric who resides in Saylorsburg, PA, whom the Turks are alleging Washington colluded with in the failed coup. The delegation would likely get a more serious hearing in the United States if influential parts of the Turkish press and political leaders did not insist that Washington was responsible. Have a look… Read more »

Failing Iraq

by Steven A. Cook
Sir John Chilcot presents The Iraq Inquiry Report at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster, London, Britain (Jeff J Mitchell/Reuters). Sir John Chilcot presents The Iraq Inquiry Report at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster, London, Britain (Jeff J Mitchell/Reuters).

Last week, Sir John Chilcot released the final report of the Iraq Inquiry—also known at the Chilcot report—after seven years of work. It is the definitive statement on how the British government became the primary partner of the United States in Operation Iraqi Freedom and how its armed forces conducted the war. The aftermath of the British vote to leave the European Union and the violence on American streets made the over-six-thousand-page study a second-tier news story, but one also gets the sense that there is a profound ambivalence about reliving the events of thirteen and fourteen years ago. Still, the Chilcot report is important because it reaffirms the transparency and resilience of British political institutions. It is true that, like in the United States, no one was held accountable for the strategic blunder that was the invasion, but the report represents a thorough examination of the record from which hopefully the British (and American) governments can learn. At the same time, the whole exercise seems woefully and depressingly beside the point because it is yet another distraction from the larger story that has been unfolding since the first rockets fell on Baghdad: the failure of Iraq. Read more »

Don’t Blame Sykes-Picot for the Middle East’s Mess

by Steven A. Cook
Members of the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS), a militia affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), detonate improvised explosive devices captured from Islamic State fighters near village of Umm al-Dhiban, northern Iraq (Goran Tomasevic/Reuters). Members of the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS), a militia affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), detonate improvised explosive devices captured from Islamic State fighters near village of Umm al-Dhiban, northern Iraq (Goran Tomasevic/Reuters).

This article was originally published here on ForeignPolicy.com on Friday, May 13, 2016.

Sometime in the 100 years since the Sykes-Picot agreement was signed, invoking its “end” became a thing among commentators, journalists, and analysts of the Middle East. Responsibility for the cliché might belong to the Independent’s Patrick Cockburn, who in June 2013 wrote an essay in the London Review of Books arguing that the agreement, which was one of the first attempts to reorder the Middle East after the Ottoman Empire’s demise, was itself in the process of dying. Since then, the meme has spread far and wide: A quick Google search reveals more than 8,600 mentions of the phrase “the end of Sykes-Picot” over the last three years. Read more »

Between Ankara and Rojava

by Steven A. Cook
Kurdish women gesture and shout slogans during a demonstration against the exclusion of the Syrian Kurds from the Geneva talks, in the northeast Syrian Kurdish city of Qamishli (Rodi Said/Reuters). Kurdish women gesture and shout slogans during a demonstration against the exclusion of the Syrian Kurds from the Geneva talks, in the northeast Syrian Kurdish city of Qamishli (Rodi Said/Reuters).

This article originally appeared here on ForeignAffairs.com on Tuesday, March 15, 2016.

Nearly seven years ago, U.S. President Barack Obama traveled to the Turkish capital, Ankara, to address the country’s parliament. Turkey was second only to Russia in its need of a “reset.” The war in Iraq had damaged Washington’s ties with Ankara, which had warned of the dangers of a U.S. invasion and paid a price for its destabilizing effects. The new U.S. president’s gauzy rhetoric before the Grand National Assembly about how Turkish and Americans soldiers stood shoulder-to-shoulder “from Korea to Kosovo to Kabul” and his admiration for “Turkey’s democracy” seemed to hit exactly the right notes. It was the dawn of a new era in which close relations with a large, prosperous, democratizing, predominantly Muslim country would exemplify a more constructive, less belligerent course for U.S. foreign policy. Read more »