Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

A Requiem for Iraq

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, June 17, 2014
Kurdish Peshmerga troops (Azad Lashkari/Courtesy Reuters). Kurdish Peshmerga troops (Azad Lashkari/Courtesy Reuters).

Istanbul–The United States should help Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki fend off the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria given the threats the group poses to American allies and interests, but Washington should also let Iraq go.  The country no longer makes sense to the people who live there. Read more »

The Contest for Regional Leadership in the New Middle East

by Steven A. Cook Wednesday, June 11, 2014
Free Syrian Army fighters pose on a tank, which they say was captured from the Syrian army loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, after clashes in Qasseer, near Homs (Shaam News Network/Courtesy Reuters). Free Syrian Army fighters pose on a tank, which they say was captured from the Syrian army loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, after clashes in Qasseer, near Homs (Shaam News Network/Courtesy Reuters).

The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) just published this report that I coauthored with Jacob Stokes, Bacevich fellow at  CNAS, and my research associate Alexander Brock.

“The Contest for Regional Leadership in the New Middle East” shows how, in addition to the historic political change occurring within the major states of the Middle East, there is a transformative process underway remaking the dynamics among the states of the region. The reordering of the geopolitics of the region has exposed rivalries among the contenders for leadership, as well as different ideological, economic, nationalistic and sectarian agendas. The report argues that Washington has sought to accommodate these changes in a way that continues to secure its strategic interests. What role the United States will play in a “new Middle East” is the subject of intense debate among Americans, Arabs and Turks. Nevertheless, it is clear that with all the problems regional powers have confronted trying to shape the politics of the region, American leadership will continue to be indispensable. Read more »

The Banality of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi

by Steven A. Cook Monday, June 9, 2014
People walk in front of an election campaign poster of presidential candidate and Egypt's former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, along a highway in downtown Cairo (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). People walk in front of an election campaign poster of presidential candidate and Egypt's former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, along a highway in downtown Cairo (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on ForeignAffairs.com on Sunday, June 8, 2014. 

“I wish I was like Nasser,” Egypt’s new president, the retired field marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi told Egyptian journalists during a televised interview in early May, referring to the former president, Gamal Abdel Nasser. “Nasser was not just a portrait on walls for Egyptians but a photo and voice carved in their hearts.” Sisi’s comments seemed rather appropriate; his crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, his military background, and his apparent popularity have a distinctly 1950s feel to them. Yet Sisi is not Nasser. Nor is he Anwar Sadat or Hosni Mubarak, or any other formative Egyptian leader. Sisi is just Sisi. As much as the new president has been billed as a hero and a savior, his coming rule is likely to be banal. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Investing in Egypt, Haunting 1967 Photos, and August in Turkey

by Steven A. Cook Friday, June 6, 2014
Galatasaray fans light flares to celebrate their goal against Fenerbahce during the Turkish Super League derby soccer match between Galatasaray and Fenerbahce in Istanbul (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters). Galatasaray fans light flares to celebrate their goal against Fenerbahce during the Turkish Super League derby soccer match between Galatasaray and Fenerbahce in Istanbul (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters).

Hdeel Abdelhady says that Egypt’s new investment law is not a solution to its economic woes, but rather is a symptom of the country’s inability to conceive and implement coherent economic policies. Read more »

The Sources of Erdogan’s Conduct

by Steven A. Cook Monday, June 2, 2014
Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (R) poses with a painting depicting him as a miner, which was given to him from his ruling AK Party supporters, during a party meeting at the parliament in Ankara (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters). Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (R) poses with a painting depicting him as a miner, which was given to him from his ruling AK Party supporters, during a party meeting at the parliament in Ankara (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters).

There is a lot that seems inexplicable about Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent conduct.  In the last few years, the Turkish prime minister has squandered the good will of many of his citizens and his counterparts around the world.  Erdogan once represented a kind of Turkish “third way” (as cliché as that sounds) in which political reform and compromise were combined with economic liberalism and a consciously Muslim identity, but now he is mostly  known for bluster, intimidation, and the reversal of the impressive political reforms of 2003 and 2004. The prime minister’s routine bullying of his opponents seems rather unnecessary given his mastery of the Turkish political arena. That said, the most recent head-scratching episode came a few weeks ago upon the Turkish leader’s visit to the grieving people of Soma—the site of Turkey’s worst mining disaster ever.  Erdogan, who was ostensibly there to express sympathy for the families of the 305 dead miners, ended up slapping a protester unhappy with the government’s handling of the catastrophe.  If that was not enough, the ”Great Master” as his adoring press refers to Erdogan, reportedly called the poor man, “Israeli semen” as he stole away. Astonishing, to say the least.  Recently, Michael Weiss of FP.com and Now Lebanon—a keen observer of events in Syria, Turkey, and Russia—asked whether Erdogan is a “poached egg.”  Weiss’ work is always interesting and provocative, yet behind Erdogan’s sometimes curious behavior is a brilliant politician who deftly manipulates Turkey’s past greatness and humiliations, to powerful political effect. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Meeting Assad’s Biographer, Alawis Have No Religion, and Egypt’s War on Artists

by Steven A. Cook Friday, May 30, 2014
Supporters of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi celebrate at Tahrir square in Cairo May 28, 2014 (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters). Supporters of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi celebrate at Tahrir square in Cairo May 28, 2014 (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters).

When Martin Kramer met Patrick Seale.

Robin Yassin-Kassab’s primer on Syria’s Alawis.

Delegitimizing artists in Sisi’s Egypt.  (Hat tip to Arabist)

Egypt After The Election

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, May 27, 2014
A man walks near replicas of Giza Pyramid covered with banners of presidential candidate and former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo May 26, 2014 (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). A man walks near replicas of Giza Pyramid covered with banners of presidential candidate and former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo May 26, 2014 (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

Below is a CFR Expert Roundup piece on Egypt’s elections, with contributions from Issandr El Amrani, Charles W. Dunne, Michael Hanna, and me.  The original article can be found hereRead more »

(Memorial Day) Weekend Reading: Mubarak’s Mansions and To Boycott or Not To Boycott?

by Steven A. Cook Friday, May 23, 2014
Steven Cook wears t-shirts purchased in Cairo, Egypt in Spring 2011, Winter 2011, Summer 2012, and Spring 2014 (from left to right) reflecting the changes in Egyptian politics. Steven Cook wears t-shirts purchased in Cairo, Egypt in Spring 2011, Winter 2011, Summer 2012, and Spring 2014 (from left to right) reflecting the changes in Egyptian politics.

Hossam Bahgat writes about the recent verdicts against former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his sons, and how Egyptians unwittingly paid for their lavish lifestyles over the years.

Aliaa Hamed muses on why Egypt’s revolutionaries are boycotting the elections. Read more »

Egypt and the Gulf: When a Free Lunch Is Not Free

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Minister of Interior Sheikh Saif Bin Zayed Al Nahyan of United Arab Emirates (Youssef Boudlal/Courtesy Reuters). Minister of Interior Sheikh Saif Bin Zayed Al Nahyan of United Arab Emirates (Youssef Boudlal/Courtesy Reuters).

Last Friday, the online version of the Egyptian daily, Al Ahram, reported that Egypt is slowing down its payments for commodities, especially food.   Apparently, because the country’s foreign currency reserves are currently about $17 billion—which means the Egyptians are coming close to the minimum amounts of reserves needed to cover imports for 3-4 months—the Central Bank has become “particularly cautious” about allocating these funds.  Upon hearing the news, one former IMF and Treasury Department official wrote to me: “So it begins…central bank has a delicate balancing act…withhold too long and it gets blamed, but it needs to slow the drain…often see this in advance of em [emerging market] crisis.” There has been some happy talk recently, most notably from IMF chief Christine LaGarde, about the state of Egypt’s finances, but it seems clear that the Egyptians are going to need additional assistance.  Their likely patrons will be the Saudis, Emiratis, and Kuwaitis who poured $12 billion in various forms into Egypt right after the July 3, 2013 coup and, in an implicit recognition that the Egyptian economy is in disastrous condition, the three Gulf states have committed an additional $8 billion.  The Gulfies may come to regret their investment in Egypt, but for now they remain unwavering in their support for Cairo.  It is true as some Emiratis have grumbled in private and stated publicly that they will not keep pouring money down a black hole, but for now at least  the assistance will continue to flow.  The funding from the Gulf is not just to keep the economy afloat but also to ensure that Egypt follows a particular political trajectory that does not pose a threat to the Saudis, Emiratis, and Kuwaitis or their common strategic interests. Read more »