Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

How To Get Egypt’s Generals Back On Our Side

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, January 6, 2015
Army soldiers take their positions with their armoured personnel vehicles during clashes with supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi in the Cairo suburb of Matariya November 28, 2014 (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters). Army soldiers take their positions with their armoured personnel vehicles during clashes with supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi in the Cairo suburb of Matariya November 28, 2014 (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on ForeignPolicy.com on Monday, January 5, 2015.

Almost as soon as the nasheed, a religious chant, begins, an improvised explosive device destroys a military vehicle in the distance. The scene repeats again, in super-slow motion. The nasheed continues, encouraging jihadists to raise up their swords, fight for god, and make their way to paradise. In the next scene, terrorists assault a small military outpost nestled amid palm trees, shooting their way through the rubble and killing a soldier who returns fire. A tank comes into view, its turret swinging wildly, raking the area with machine gun fire ineffectively, and then beating a hasty retreat. The footage then shifts to the gruesome aftermath: a burned-out tank, a disabled armored personnel carrier, and dead, mangled soldiers. Read more »

Killing “The Death of Sykes-Picot”

by Steven A. Cook Monday, January 5, 2015
Fireworks explode during New Year's celebrations at Martyrs Square in downtown Beirut (Jamal Saidi/Courtesy Reuters). Fireworks explode during New Year's celebrations at Martyrs Square in downtown Beirut (Jamal Saidi/Courtesy Reuters).

Happy New Year! Devoted readers of this blog will know that I generally loathe the annual end- and beginning-of-the-year roundups, lists, retrospectives, and prognostications. “Lame” is the only way to describe them, which is pretty lame when you think about it. There are a few exceptions to this, of course. I always look forward to my buddy Marc Lynch’s best political science books on the Middle East—though it is often a reminder of how far behind I am on my reading—and I enjoy David Brooks’s “Sidney Awards,” named after Sidney Hook. I also dislike New Year’s resolutions and almost never make them, this year being an exception: In 2015, I will refrain from trolling Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It is not that he is not deserving of criticism, but he is such an easy target. It just does not seem fair. Truth be told, I do not think I can top likening him to the Turducken as I did on Thanksgiving in Politico. Read more »

Holiday Reading

by Steven A. Cook Monday, December 22, 2014
Issa Kassissieh, an Israeli-Arab Christian, wears a Santa Claus costume as he poses for the media in Jerusalem's Old City, during the annual distribution of Christmas trees by the Jerusalem municipality (Ammar Awad/Courtesy Reuters). Issa Kassissieh, an Israeli-Arab Christian, wears a Santa Claus costume as he poses for the media in Jerusalem's Old City, during the annual distribution of Christmas trees by the Jerusalem municipality (Ammar Awad/Courtesy Reuters).

It’s the holiday season so there will be light blogging in the next week or so.  Here is what Team Cook is reading:

Steven Cook – Inventing Iraq: The Failure of Nation Building and a History Denied by Toby Dodge. Read more »

Weekend Reading: The Classics And The Middle East, ISIS vs. AQAP, and How Jihadi Groups Make Law

by Steven A. Cook Friday, December 19, 2014
A Shi'ite Houthi mans a weapon on the back of a patrol truck, as Ansar al-Sharia flags are seen in the background November 22, 2014 (Mohamed al-Sayaghi/Courtesy Reuters). A Shi'ite Houthi mans a weapon on the back of a patrol truck, as Ansar al-Sharia flags are seen in the background November 22, 2014 (Mohamed al-Sayaghi/Courtesy Reuters).

Andrew Gilmour argues that the study of classics is useful to understanding contemporary power struggles in the modern Middle East.

Cole Bunzel discusses the rivalry between ISIS and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) playing out in Yemen. Read more »

The Tin-Pot Dictatorships of Egypt and Turkey

by Steven A. Cook Monday, December 15, 2014
Zaman editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanli, surrounded by his colleagues and plainclothes police officers (C), reacts as he leaves the headquarters of Zaman daily newspaper in Istanbul (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters). Zaman editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanli, surrounded by his colleagues and plainclothes police officers (C), reacts as he leaves the headquarters of Zaman daily newspaper in Istanbul (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters).

Supporters of the governments of Egypt and Turkey have become adept at telling the world that under presidents Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Recep Tayyip Erdogan respectively, these countries are making progress toward more open and just political systems. In reality, they are nothing more than tin-pot dictatorships. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Egypt’s Spider-Man, Ottomania, and Iraq’s Militias

by Steven A. Cook Friday, December 12, 2014
Turkish faithful pray in Ottoman-era Sultanahmet mosque, known as Blue mosque, on "Laylat Al Qadr" during the holy month of Ramadan, in Istanbul late July 23, 2014 (Yagiz Karahan/Courtesy Reuters). Turkish faithful pray in Ottoman-era Sultanahmet mosque, known as Blue mosque, on "Laylat Al Qadr" during the holy month of Ramadan, in Istanbul late July 23, 2014 (Yagiz Karahan/Courtesy Reuters).

Browse through Hossam Atef’s photo gallery, the photographer known as Antikka who recently made headlines with his latest project, “SpiderMan At Egypt.”

Pinar Tremblay investigates the discriminatory effects of introducing Ottoman Turkish to the national curriculum. Read more »

Making War In Iraq

by Steven A. Cook Monday, December 8, 2014
A member of the Kurdish "peshmerga" forces takes part in an intensive security deployment after clashes with Islamic State militants in Jalawla, Diyala province (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters). A member of the Kurdish "peshmerga" forces takes part in an intensive security deployment after clashes with Islamic State militants in Jalawla, Diyala province (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters).

It was sort of amazing back in August when President Barack Obama went before the White House press corps and publicly declared, “We don’t have a strategy yet” when it came to combating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). He was pilloried in a collective freak-out that crossed partisan lines. The president probably should not have said what he said given what he must now know about the press, his opponents, and his previous, ill-considered comments about post-Bin Laden extremist groups being “JV.” That said, admitting that his administration had not yet determined how to meet the ISIS threat was also sort of prudent. “Strategy” and “strategic” are among the most misused and abused words in Washington, and given the complex and unprecedented problems that are consuming Iraq and Syria, it was a good idea for the administration to take a step back and ask a number of basic questions before settling on its goals and determining the resources necessary to meet those objectives. For example, what resources were available to the United States? What are ISIS’ goals? What can regional allies do? How might regional adversaries react to various courses of action? What are reasonable goals for the United States? How will the American people respond to different approaches? Instead, as I wrote last September, the president was bullied into bombing ISIS after James Foley was beheaded, leaving the Pentagon, White House, and State Department to figure out a strategy on the fly. It was no way to go to war. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Syrian Deals, Tunisia’s Libya, and Israeli Elections

by Steven A. Cook Friday, December 5, 2014
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to a session of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem (Ronen Zvulun/Courtesy Reuters). Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to a session of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem (Ronen Zvulun/Courtesy Reuters).

Yezid Sayegh, in an interview with Syria Deeply, argues that a deteriorating situation in Syria may incentivize some rebels to strike a deal with the Assad regime. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Mubarak Acquitted, (Another) Tunisian Uprising, and Iraq’s Flags

by Steven A. Cook Saturday, November 29, 2014
A supporter of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak celebrates in front of Maadi military hospital after Mubarak returned to the hospital following the verdict of his trial in Cairo (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters). A supporter of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak celebrates in front of Maadi military hospital after Mubarak returned to the hospital following the verdict of his trial in Cairo (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters).

Hossam Bahgat sheds some light on the verdict acquitting former President Hosni Mubarak of charges against him.

Sam Kimball and Nicholas Linn contend that despite Tunisia’s recent elections, the country could be headed for another uprising. Read more »