Volume XXIV Spring 2017 Number 1
Events have moved almost at light speed in the first month of Donald Trump's term, making it difficult to assimilate relevant data points and analyses (see our tireless newspapers of record; there are too many to rehearse here). The centerpiece of the period was the resignation/firing of Michael Flynn, the president's national-security adviser.
The following is a transcript of the eighty-seventh in a series of Capitol Hill conferences convened by the Middle East Policy Council. The meeting was held at the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, DC, on January 11, 2017, with Richard J. Schmierer, chairman of the board of directors of the Middle East Policy Council moderating, and Thomas R. Mattair, executive director of the Middle East Policy Council, serving as discussant. The video can be accessed at www.mepc.org.
As the Syrian civil war reaches its sixth anniversary, it is increasingly clear how much the conflict has transformed the politics of the Middle East. Syria itself has been shattered. Whatever the fate of the current crisis, violence, political instability, state weakness and economic difficulty look likely to continue for years to come in a country formerly known for its relative stability. The shock waves have spread quickly and in manifold ways to Syria's immediate neighbors.
Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been the leading Middle Eastern states seeking the overthrow of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Having set regime change as their goal in 2011, each state devoted considerable resources to achieving it, including diplomatic and economic sanctions, support for elements of the political and armed opposition, and pressure on the United States to intervene against Assad.
Syria's civil war has reinforced Iraqi state weakness and fears of partition along ethno-sectarian lines. The conflict has encouraged the proliferation of militias, refugee flows and Kurdish transnationalism, all of which challenge Baghdad's sovereignty and enhance the de facto authority of sub-state actors. These centrifugal forces have been compounded by Iraq's political and financial crises, the onslaught of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), and second- and third-order consequences of the anti-ISIS campaign.
Nowhere have the spillover effects of the overlapping domestic, regional and international war for Syria proved more devastating than in Lebanon.1 Whether in terms of increased sectarian agitation and violence, refugee flows, the mushrooming of local and transnational Salafi-jihadi cells, or the matrix of regional and international actors involved, the Syrian war has placed new economic, social, political and security strains on an already over-stretched Lebanese system. The metrics alone are astounding.
Kurdish groups, both within Syria and throughout the Middle East, undoubtedly see the Syrian war as an opportunity to advance their goals of self-determination. The Kurdish autonomous region of Rojava is held up as proving the viability and necessity of Kurdish self-rule within any future Syria, with Kurdish leader Idris Nassan declaring that "federalism should be the future."1 In addition, key events throughout the conflict were seized upon by Kurdish leaders in Turkey and Iraq to generate support for their causes.
The Syrian tragedy has induced rapid changes in the country’s social structure. Moreover, new forms of collective and individual authority tethered to the conflict have emerged.1 Both processes will have long-term impacts on the future of Syria and the prospect for a peaceful resolution. Driving much of this transformation are changes wrought by the emergence of war economies in Syria.
The conflict over the future of the West Bank and Gaza Strip has long been at a stalemate. While many issues make a two-state solution difficult, particularly the intertwined controversies of settlements, borders and security, most core concerns are tied to land. With growing pessimism on all sides,1 voices across the political spectrum, both in Israel and among Palestinians, have discussed the need for alternatives to a two-state solution. While usually framed in terms of justice or pragmatism, less discussed is what such ideas might mean in terms of governance.
The history of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB or Ikhwan) movement in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has varied considerably among its six members. Influenced by distinct political, social and theological landscapes, as well as differing foreign-policy agendas, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have always assessed the MB differently. Some Gulf Arab monarchies view the movement as a threat to their very survival and regional security.
Qatar is a unique example of a small-state actor that has achieved rapid economic development domestically and nurtured a foreign policy with an international reach. The key driver behind its success is the country's extraordinary reserves of natural gas.
The Boy in the Mask: The Hidden World of Lawrence of Arabia, by Dick Benson-Gyles. The Lilliput Press, 2016. €25.00, hardcover.
"For Only Those Deserve the Name": T.E. Lawrence and Seven Pillars of Wisdom, by Mark Calderbank. Sussex Academic, 2017. $64.95, hardcover.
Lawrence of Arabia's War: The Arabs, the British and the Remaking of the Middle East in WW I, by Neil Faulkner. Yale University Press, 2016.
Presidents typically see their national security adviser multiple times daily. Just as his predecessors did, President Donald J.
Approximately five weeks after winning the election, President-elect Donald Trump announced David Friedman as his choice to serve as envoy to Israel.
In his 2016 book The New Arab Wars: Uprisings and Anarchy in the Middle East, George Washington University political-science professor Marc Lynch notes, "This book has been painful to write" (p. 255).