Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

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 »

What a Turkey!

by Steven A. Cook Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Turkey's Prime Minister and presidential candidate Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters during an election rally in Istanbul August 3, 2014 (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters). Turkey's Prime Minister and presidential candidate Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters during an election rally in Istanbul August 3, 2014 (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on Politico.com on Tuesday, August 5, 2014.

If Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan were an American politician, he would be an excellent candidate for one of Chris Cillizza’s “Worst Week in Washington” features. First, on Friday, July 19, a day after the State Department spokesperson criticized him for his frequent invocation of the Nazis to describe Israel’s behavior, Erdogan asked, “What do Americans know about Hitler?” Given that almost 200,000 young Americans died fighting in Europe during WWII, quite a lot, actually. Second, in an open and embarrassing display of just how far the cult of Erdogan’s personality has gone, the 60-year-old prime minister appeared in a friendly soccer match—wearing a bright orange uniform—and miraculously scored three goals in 15 minutes to the collective delirium of announcers, fans and opposing players from the Istanbul Basaksehir club. (It was a bit of a disappointment that he did not pull off his jersey in triumph after the hat trick; it would have given the growing Tayyip Erdogan-Vladimir Putin comparisons an additional element of absurdity.) Third, the American Jewish Congress demanded that Erdogan return the “Profiles in Courage” award the organization bestowed upon him in 2004 for his commitment to protect Turkish Jewry, combat terrorism and forge peaceful coexistence in the Middle East. The prime minister—who is also a recipient of the Muammar al-Qaddafi prize for human rights—was, in the words of Turkey’s ambassador in Washington, “glad” to return the honor. Finally, Cillizza’s colleague at the Washington Post, Richard Cohen, penned a column about Erdogan’s “Hitler fetish,” wondering whether the Turkish prime minister had lost his marbles. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Israel’s Left Wing, Islamist Rivalries, and Instability in Libya

by Steven A. Cook Friday, August 1, 2014
Fighters from the Benghazi Shura Council, which includes former rebels and militants from al Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia, gesture on top of a tank next to the camp of the special forces in Benghazi July 30, 2014 (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters). Fighters from the Benghazi Shura Council, which includes former rebels and militants from al Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia, gesture on top of a tank next to the camp of the special forces in Benghazi July 30, 2014 (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters).

Orit Bashkin examines the role of the radical Israeli left.

Ali Mamouri, writing for Al-Monitorexplores why the Islamic State and other fundamentalist Salafi groups refuse to support Hamas. Read more »

Salvaging Abbas

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, July 29, 2014
U.S. President Barack Obama walks down Cross Hall with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas September 1, 2010 (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. President Barack Obama walks down Cross Hall with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas September 1, 2010 (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on TimesOfIsrael.com on Tuesday, July 29, 2014.

Almost from the start of the conflict in the Gaza Strip, the commentariat has been seized with the idea of “empowering [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas” as the only way out of the recurrent violence between Israel and Hamas. The discovery of this idea in Washington (and Jerusalem for that matter) is rather odd, not because it does not make sense, but rather because the idea is so reasonable and obvious that one wonders why — ten years after he became the Palestinian leader — it took so long to recognize it. Almost from the moment of Yasser Arafat’s death, Egypt sent high-level emissaries to the United States, warning that the new Palestinian president needed help lest he gradually cede the political arena to Hamas. He did not get it then and now it is likely too late to salvage Abbas. Read more »

The Last Great Myth About Egypt

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, July 22, 2014
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) speaks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo July 22, 2014 (Charles Dharapak/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) speaks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo July 22, 2014 (Charles Dharapak/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on ForeignPolicy.com on Monday, July 21, 2014.

In the 1970s, Henry Kissinger fell in love with Anwar Sadat. To Kissinger, the Egyptian president “had the wisdom and courage of the statesman and occasionally the insight of the prophet.” It was from this romance that a set of ideas about Egypt became inculcated in American Middle East policy: Egypt would be a bulwark against the Soviet Union, a base from which U.S. forces would launch in the event of a crisis in the Persian Gulf, and a mediator between Arabs — especially the Palestinians — and Israelis. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Assad’s Inaugural Address, A Review of Rouhani, and Egypt’s Reconciliation Problems

by Steven A. Cook Friday, July 18, 2014
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad places his right hand on a Koran as he is sworn in for a new seven-year term, at al-Shaab presidential palace in Damascus July 16, 2014 (Sana Sana/Courtesy Reuters). Syria's President Bashar al-Assad places his right hand on a Koran as he is sworn in for a new seven-year term, at al-Shaab presidential palace in Damascus July 16, 2014 (Sana Sana/Courtesy Reuters).

Full text of Bashar al-Assad’s inauguration speech at his swearing-in ceremony last Wednesday, translated by the Center for Research on Globalization. Read more »

On the Death of a Friend in Israel

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Elhanan Harlev Elhanan Harlev

On the Death of a Friend in Israel

My friend Elhanan Harlev died on July 1st after a long illness. We had an odd friendship. He was an Israeli by way of Germany and Argentina. I am a kid from Long Island. Elhanan was more than three decades older than me. We did not share a common language. Against those odds we somehow managed to communicate. Often times it was through an able interpreter like his wife, my cousin Carol, or one of her sons from her first marriage—most often Ari, who has popped up on this blog from time to time. At other times, Elhanan and I just found a way to understand each other. Never has a name, Elhanan means “God is Merciful,” been so apt for the soft-spoken, gentle, and wise soul that he was (and remains). His was an extraordinary life because it was so normal. And in that normalcy, he taught me more about Israel than much of what I have read. Read more »