Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

“How Happy Is the One Who Says, I Am a Turk!”

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Flags with a picture of the jailed Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan and of modern Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (L) are pictured during a gathering of supporters of the Pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) (Murad Sezer/Reuters). Flags with a picture of the jailed Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan and of modern Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (L) are pictured during a gathering of supporters of the Pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) (Murad Sezer/Reuters).

This article originally appeared here on ForeignPolicy.com on Monday, March 28, 2016.

The war between the Turkish military and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is back, and it seems more ferocious than ever. Over the past six months, an estimated 500 civilians have been killed in fighting between Turkish security forces and the Kurdish insurgent group. In February and March, PKK suicide bombers struck at the heart of Turkey’s capital, killing a total of 67 people within steps of the prime ministry and in Ankara’s bustling Kizilay neighborhood. All the while, the Turkish military has laid siege to the towns of Cizre and Nusaybin, PKK strongholds in the southeast, razing apartment blocks and sending desperate civilians fleeing. Read more »

Turkey to See More Ballot Boxes This Year

by Guest Blogger for Steven A. Cook Monday, March 28, 2016
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during his meeting with mukhtars at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey (Umit Bektas/Reuters). Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during his meeting with mukhtars at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey (Umit Bektas/Reuters).

Ali Sokmen is an analyst covering Turkish affairs for Control Risks, the global business risk consultancy.

After having voted four times over the past two years, many Turkish citizens think they have seen enough ballot boxes. Turkish politicians seem to disagree. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Remaking Turkey’s Southeast, Barzani Speaks, and Sisi’s Parliament

by Steven A. Cook Friday, March 25, 2016
raqi Kurdistan region's President Massoud Barzani attends a news conference with Britain's Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in Erbil, Iraq (Azad Lashkari/Reuters). raqi Kurdistan region's President Massoud Barzani attends a news conference with Britain's Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in Erbil, Iraq (Azad Lashkari/Reuters).

Nicholas Glastonbury and Defne Kadioglu discuss the salient role of urban governance in the conflict between the Turkish government and its Kurdish southeast. Read more »

Shameless in Turkey: Aydinlik, Sabah, and Henri

by Steven A. Cook Monday, March 21, 2016
A man places carnations at the scene of a suicide bombing at Istiklal street, a major shopping and tourist district, in central Istanbul, Turkey (Osman Orsal/Reuters). A man places carnations at the scene of a suicide bombing at Istiklal street, a major shopping and tourist district, in central Istanbul, Turkey (Osman Orsal/Reuters).

On Saturday there was a horrific bombing in Istanbul that killed four and injured thirty six. It is the fourth attack in Turkey in six weeks. The country is under grave threat from the self-declared Islamic State, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, known as the TAK. Ankara has fingered a suspect named Mehmet Ozturk, who is believed to be a Turkish member of the Islamic State, for the weekend’s violence. One would think that the Turkish press would spend its time looking into the attacker’s background, trying to understand who his accomplices are and how he got past Turkey’s rather intensive security. Many journalists are doing just that, but the Turkish newspapers Aydinlik and Sabah had something different in mind for their readers this weekend. Aydinlik’s front-page headline screamed “Barkey’s Bombs Exploded.” The “Barkey” in the headline is Professor Henri J. Barkey of Lehigh University and the director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington. For its part, Sabah reported “Istiklal Bomb Threat From CIA” with a picture of Barkey (which Aydinlik had also included). Read more »

Weekend Reading: Russia’s Withdrawal, Escaping Fallujah, and Syrian Art

by Steven A. Cook Friday, March 18, 2016
Men carry a Free Syrian Army flag while attending an anti-government protest in Maarat al-Numan, south of Idlib, Syria (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters). Men carry a Free Syrian Army flag while attending an anti-government protest in Maarat al-Numan, south of Idlib, Syria (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters).

Dmitry Gorenburg and Michael Kofman argue that Russia intends to remain entrenched in the Syrian conflict, even after withdrawing troops from the region.

Kamal al-Ayash explores the dangerous route families use to escape from Fallujah to Baghdad, Turkey, and Europe. Read more »

Between Ankara and Rojava

by Steven A. Cook Wednesday, March 16, 2016
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 »

Egypt’s Black Market Blues

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, March 15, 2016
A customer counts his U.S. dollar money in a bank in Cairo, Egypt (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters). A customer counts his U.S. dollar money in a bank in Cairo, Egypt (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters).

Just as I was heading out the door yesterday, I received a message from my friend Timothy Kaldas with just two words: “They caved.” I knew exactly what he was referring to. The Central Bank of Egypt determined that it could no longer defend the Egyptian pound and devalued the currency a whopping 13 percent. You can now exchange a U.S. dollar at a bank in Cairo for about nine pounds, which is great for tourists, if there were any. It is about time Egyptian banking officials took this step, which immediately injected some confidence in the financial markets and among investors. It may seem beside the point to ask why it took them so long, but the answer to that question might tell observers something about what to expect next from Egypt’s economic policymakers. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Egypt’s Unions, Tunisia’s Youth, and Syria’s Protests

by Steven A. Cook Friday, March 11, 2016
Protesters carry a Free Syrian Army flags during an anti-government protest in the al-Sukari neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria (Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters). Protesters carry a Free Syrian Army flags during an anti-government protest in the al-Sukari neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria (Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters).

Giulio Regeni, in his last article before his death, finds that Egypt’s independent trade unions remain willing to defy the state.

Benoit Challand examines the alienation of Tunisia’s youth and its implications on jihadi recruitment. Read more »

Sisi Wags His Finger

by Steven A. Cook Thursday, March 10, 2016
Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi attends the opening ceremony of the 26th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union (AU) at the AU headquarters in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa (Tiksa Negeri/Reuters). Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi attends the opening ceremony of the 26th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union (AU) at the AU headquarters in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa (Tiksa Negeri/Reuters).

Is Egypt melting down? It has an insurgency, a currency crisis, a brazen and brutal security apparatus that is sowing dissent, a phony political process, and a leader who has lost his grip. These are, at least, the reasons that have been outlined in various commentaries and analyses over the last few weeks or so. It may have reached a crescendo when President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi gave his disastrous (by all accounts) “Egypt 2030” speech. The Egyptian historian Khaled Fahmy called Sisi’s performance Qaddafi-esque. For those keeping score, that is not a compliment. Sisi rambled, wagged his finger at those in attendance, demanded that they only listen to him, and offered a number of loopy ideas for resolving Egypt’s indebtedness including putting himself up for sale. Despite the tough times, Egyptians—who are preternaturally hilarious—put their president up for sale on eBay. He was fetching more than $100,000 before the sale was taken down. Of course, Egypt’s present tribulations are no joke, but I wonder if much of the commentary, especially those parts of it related to Sisi, is not misleading. Egypt may be melting down, but I do not believe it is because the Egyptian president “has lost his grip,” if only because he never had one. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Portraying Tunisia’s Revolution, Turkey’s TAK, and Orwellian Syria

by Steven A. Cook Friday, March 4, 2016
A girl waves a Tunisian flags during celebrations marking the fifth anniversary of Tunisia's 2011 revolution, in Habib Bourguiba Avenue in Tunis, Tunisia (Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters). A girl waves a Tunisian flags during celebrations marking the fifth anniversary of Tunisia's 2011 revolution, in Habib Bourguiba Avenue in Tunis, Tunisia (Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters).

Khadija Mohsen-Finan discusses discrepancies in the portrayal of the Tunisian revolution around the world and Tunisians’ own purview on the achievements and difficulties of the past five years. Read more »