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 »
This article was originally published here on Politico.com on Thursday, November 27, 2014.
Without fail every year, starting around November 10, my #Turkey Twitter feed is jammed with not just the latest news from Ankara and Istanbul, but also Auntie Jean’s turkey recipe and suggestions about how to deep fry the bird without blowing up your house. And every year, on behalf of Turks and Turkey scholars the world over, I plaintively ask the tweeting masses to change #Turkey to #Turkiye, the actual Turkish name for the country that borders Greece, Bulgaria, Iran, Iraq and Syria—alas, with no success. Read more »
The relationship between the United States and Turkey has hit the skids. The controversy over Kobani has revealed deep fissures and deep mistrust between Washington and Ankara. It is true that U.S.-Turkish ties were never easy. Beyond the gauzy rhetoric of fighting and dying together in Korea and standing shoulder-to-shoulder to counter the Soviet threat, there was a war of words between President Lyndon Johnson and Turkish Prime Minister Ismet Inonu over Cyprus, and then after the Turks invaded the island in 1974, Washington imposed an arms embargo on Ankara. In between and even in the years after the United States lifted the sanctions on Turkey, mistrust was a constant feature of the relationship. No doubt some Turkey watchers will claim that if bilateral ties survived the difficult period of the 1960s and 1970s, there is no reason to believe that relations will be permanently impaired now, but that is a lazy argument. The factors that drove the strategic relationship—the Soviet Union, Middle East peacemaking, Turkey’s EU project, and soft landings in the Arab world—no longer exist. At the same time, the accumulated evidence from recent experience in Syria, Israel-Palestine, Egypt, and Iraq indicate that Washington and Ankara simply have different goals. Read more »
Tunis—Ever since Tunisia’s October 26 elections, there has been a raft of paeans to the “birthplace of the Arab Spring.” Tunisia does look pretty good, especially as it sits in between the chaos, resurgent authoritarianism, stasis, and faux reform of the neighborhood. The free and fair elections, which occurred ten months after the adoption of a new compromise constitution and a little more than a year after violence almost wrecked the whole post-Zine El Abidine Ben Ali political process, is worthy of praise. There have been two peaceful elections since Tunisians sent Ben Ali packing, which is an important benchmark for the country’s political trajectory. There is no doubt that Tunisians should be feeling pretty good about themselves, but I wonder if the editorial writers and commentators haven’t gotten a bit carried away. According to my friend and colleague, Amy Hawthorne, who observed last month’s elections, Tunisia’s transition to democracy is “very fragile.” I agree; Tunisia may be the best of the lot, but there are lots of ways it can go wrong. Read more »
From the Potomac to the Euphrates examines how debates about Mideast policy in Washington connect to the region, with a special focus on Egypt and Turkey.