Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

Weekend Reading: The Middle East Is Not All That Bad

by Steven A. Cook Friday, September 12, 2014
The newly renovated facade of Maghen Abraham, Beirut's oldest synagogue (Jamal Saidi/Courtesy Reuters). The newly renovated facade of Maghen Abraham, Beirut's oldest synagogue (Jamal Saidi/Courtesy Reuters).

After 30 years, Beirut’s Maghen Abraham synagogue has been restored and is scheduled to reopen.

Zamaaan offers a glimpse into a people’s history of the Middle East via crowd-sourced family photos. Read more »

Assadomasochism

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, September 9, 2014
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad heads a meeting of his new cabinet in Damascus August 31, 2014 (Sana Sana/Courtesy Reuters). Syria's President Bashar al-Assad heads a meeting of his new cabinet in Damascus August 31, 2014 (Sana Sana/Courtesy Reuters).

There is now no question that the United States is about to get a lot more involved in Iraq (and perhaps Syria) than President Obama had ever intended.  So far, the administration has made it clear that the goal is to defeat ISIS, but it has been more difficult determining how to make that happen. The administration has not publicly offered much in the way of what its strategy is other than to say that a broad international coalition is necessary to crush ISIS.  Here is a question: Will Syria be part of that coalition? That sounds crazy after Bashar al Assad has killed 190,000 of his own people and made three million of them refugees.  Hasn’t virtually everyone inside the Beltway declared that “Assad must go”? Still, the issue lingers.  There has been some speculation that the United States is coordinating with Bashar al Assad via the Emiratis and last winter there were mysterious reports of Western intelligence officers reaching out to Damascus.  Who knows what to make of these stories, yet it is clear that serious, but cold-hearted people both within the United States government and outside of it have advanced the idea of working with Assad “because the alternative [i.e. ISIS] is worse.” This is a losing proposition and among the worst policy recommendations to surface since Syria’s descent into bloodshed began three summers ago. Read more »

Weekend Reading: What Caused ISIS, PKK Women on the State of their World, and Meet PM Davutoglu

by Steven A. Cook Friday, September 5, 2014
Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu addresses members of the parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Turkish parliament (Stringer Turkey/Courtesy Reuters). Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu addresses members of the parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Turkish parliament (Stringer Turkey/Courtesy Reuters).

Peter Harling explores the rise of ISIS in Le Monde Diplomatique (English).

Alexandra Valiente’s two-part interview with representatives from the PKK’s Party of Women’s Liberation. Read more »

The New Arab Cold War

by Steven A. Cook Friday, August 29, 2014
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) talks with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal (R) after arriving at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah June 27, 2014 (POOL New/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) talks with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal (R) after arriving at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah June 27, 2014 (POOL New/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on ForeignPolicy.com on Thursday, August 28, 2014.

A bitter proxy war is being waged in the Middle East. It stretches from Iraq to Lebanon and reaches into North Africa, taking lives in the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt’s Western Desert, and now Libya. Although the nihilism of the Islamic State and the threat of other extremist groups have garnered virtually all the attention of the media and governments, this violence is the result of a nasty fight between regional powers over who will lead the Middle East. It is a blood-soaked mess that will be left to the United States to clean up. Read more »

Washington Can’t Solve the Identity Crisis in Middle East Nations

by Steven A. Cook Monday, August 18, 2014
Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing the violence in the Iraqi town of Sinjar, walk to a refugee camp after they re-enter Iraq from Syria, August 14, 2014 (Youssef Boudlal/Courtesy Reuters). Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing the violence in the Iraqi town of Sinjar, walk to a refugee camp after they re-enter Iraq from Syria, August 14, 2014 (Youssef Boudlal/Courtesy Reuters).

I published the following piece in the Outlook section of Sunday’s Washington Post. I hope you find it interesting and useful! Read more »

Weekend Reading: HRW Reports on Raba’a, Defeating IS, and Iran’s Man in Baghdad

by Steven A. Cook Friday, August 15, 2014
Shi'ite volunteers, from Abbas Unit who have joined the Iraqi army to fight against militants of the Islamic State parade down a street in Kerbala, southwest of Baghdad August 14, 2014 (Mushtaq Muhammed/Courtesy Reuters). Shi'ite volunteers, from Abbas Unit who have joined the Iraqi army to fight against militants of the Islamic State parade down a street in Kerbala, southwest of Baghdad August 14, 2014 (Mushtaq Muhammed/Courtesy Reuters).

Full text of the Human Rights Watch report on last year’s forcible dispersal of the pro-Morsi Raba’a sit-in.

Nabeel Khoury, writing for The Tahrir Forum, argues that if the United States fails to defeat the Islamic State, then Iran and Hezbollah will have to do it. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Destroying Religious Shrines, the Yazidis, and Humans of Kurdistan (as well as New York)

by Steven A. Cook Friday, August 8, 2014
A member of the Kurdish peshmerga forces sit with a weapon during an intensive security deployment against Islamic State militants in Makhmur August 7, 2014 (STRINGER Iraq/Courtesy Reuters). A member of the Kurdish peshmerga forces sit with a weapon during an intensive security deployment against Islamic State militants in Makhmur August 7, 2014 (STRINGER Iraq/Courtesy Reuters).

Mohamad Ballan explores the Islamic State’s destruction of religious shrines in historical context.

Matthew Barber reports on recent IS advances against Iraqi Kurds and the plight of the Yazidi minority. Read more »