Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

Failing Iraq

by Steven A. Cook Monday, July 11, 2016
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 »

Weekend Reading: Terror and Infrastructure in Iraq, Ladino Music, and the Return of South Yemen

by Steven A. Cook Friday, July 8, 2016
Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims attend prayers during Eid al-Fitr as they mark the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, at the site of a suicide car bomb attack over the weekend at the shopping area of Karrada, in Baghdad, Iraq (Khalid al Mousily/Reuters). Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims attend prayers during Eid al-Fitr as they mark the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, at the site of a suicide car bomb attack over the weekend at the shopping area of Karrada, in Baghdad, Iraq (Khalid al Mousily/Reuters).

Sajad Jiyad, an Iraq-based researcher, argues that it was poor infrastructure as well as terrorism that contributed to the deaths of at least 250 people in Baghdad last Sunday. Read more »

Fourth of July Reading

by Steven A. Cook Friday, July 1, 2016
A woman waves an American flag as she rides in an antique pickup truck through Barnstable Village on Cape Cod, during the annual Fourth of July Parade celebrating the country's Independence Day, in Barnstable, Massachusetts (Mike Segar). A woman waves an American flag as she rides in an antique pickup truck through Barnstable Village on Cape Cod, during the annual Fourth of July Parade celebrating the country's Independence Day, in Barnstable, Massachusetts (Mike Segar).

This Fourth of July holiday, here is what Team Cook is reading:

Lauren Cook, managing partner: The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan.

Steven Cook, field manager: America in Retreat: The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder by Bret Stephens. Read more »

Israel and Turkey: No Big Deal

by Steven A. Cook Monday, June 27, 2016
Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (L) shakes hands with his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan at the Elysee Palace July 13, 2008, in this picture released by the Israeli Government Press Office (Avi Ohayon/Reuters). Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (L) shakes hands with his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan at the Elysee Palace July 13, 2008, in this picture released by the Israeli Government Press Office (Avi Ohayon/Reuters).

Many thanks to Brad Rothschild for his help with the Hebrew.

News came over the weekend that Israel and Turkey are making up. There have been on and off rumors to this effect over the last three or four years, but the expected rapprochement never came. There was some hope that Jerusalem and Ankara would patch things up quickly after President Barack Obama visited Israel in March 2013, and as a party favor—a “deliverable,” as it is known in the awful jargon of Washington wonkery—Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was Turkey’s prime minister at the time before ascending to the presidency in August 2014, to apologize for the infamous 2010 Mavi Marmara incident. It was not to be, however. Negotiations dragged on with varying degrees of intensity between Turkish and Israeli diplomats in the ensuing years with episodic rumors and press report of imminent breakthroughs. Yet because the foreign ministries in both countries actually have limited influence on foreign policy, it was up to the leaders, and neither Netanyahu nor Erdogan seemed all that interested in a rapprochement. All that said, today’s official announcement that Israel and Turkey are restoring full diplomatic relations was not that much of a surprise. But as important a development as the deal may be, this is unlikely to be the dawn of a new day in Israeli-Turkish relations. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Bahrain’s Illusions, and Egypt’s Brexit

by Steven A. Cook Friday, June 24, 2016
Human rights activists, Zainab al-Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab (R) talk during their meeting with activists after al-Khawaja's release from prison, Manama, Bahrain (Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters). Human rights activists, Zainab al-Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab (R) talk during their meeting with activists after al-Khawaja's release from prison, Manama, Bahrain (Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters).

Giorgio Cafiero and Joshua Hodge explore how the smaller Arab Gulf states perceive Iran in different ways than Saudi Arabia, whose position often dominates Gulf policy on the issue. Read more »

Saudi Arabia’s Gamal Mubarak

by Steven A. Cook Monday, June 20, 2016
Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reacts upon his arrival at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France (Charles Platiau/Reuters). Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reacts upon his arrival at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France (Charles Platiau/Reuters).

The deputy crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, was in Washington last week, arousing all the usual questions about what is going on in his country. Is it stable? Is the crown prince, Mohammed bin Nayef, in good health? Has the deputy crown prince, who is the son of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, already eclipsed the crown prince, the king’s nephew? Nobody knows for sure, of course, but Saudi watchers and other observers keep trying to guess anyway. Read more »

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

by Steven A. Cook Friday, June 17, 2016
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 Friday, June 10, 2016
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 Friday, June 3, 2016
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 »