Vol XXIV No 3 2017
Last quarter, it seemed the Trump administration had reached a low point, what with the president's firing of FBI director James Comey for refusing to call off the investigation of possible collusion with Russia by the Trump campaign.
The following is a transcript of the eighty-ninth 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 July 14, 2017, with Richard J. Schmierer, chairman of the Council's board of directors, moderating, and Thomas R. Mattair, the Council's executive director, serving as discussant. The video can be accessed at www.mepc.org.
The rapid rise of the Islamic State (IS)1 in Iraq — which saw the capture of major Iraqi cities such as Mosul, Tikrit and Fallujah and culminated with IS declaring its caliphate in the summer of 2014 — caught the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) unprepared, to the extent that at one point Baghdad itself was within IS's grasp.2 As a response to this existential threat, Iraq's most senior religious cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, issued an edict for all able-bodied men to join the ISF and help protect the homeland, its people and the holy shrines.
Ever since the start of the unrest in Syria, in March 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood has been identified as a leader of the campaign to overthrow Bashar al-Assad. In truth, the Syrian president himself had a hand in the efforts to highlight the Brotherhood's role in organizing the violence and even blamed it for acts of terrorism against the Syrian people. There is no doubt that the regime wanted to remind the world of the movement's violent history and the years of the rebellion against the Baathist government (1976-82).
Debates about the role that Islam should play in shaping politics and political systems have been around since the beginning of Islam itself. Islamism as a sociopolitical movement, however, originated in the twentieth century, its beginnings linked to problems associated with imperialism, modern states, rapid urbanization and the rise of mass societies.
The inauguration of the second Rouhani administration has intensified debate on the Islamic Republic's defense posture and its relations with neighboring countries and the United States. Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, relations between Tehran and Western powers, led by the United States, have been characterized by mutual suspicion and hostility. Iranian leaders claim that Western powers, particularly the United States, have never accepted the Islamic Revolution.
The nations of the Middle East have been undergoing far-reaching change and enduring severe challenges in the past decade. Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004, the Arab Spring in 2011, the conflicts in Libya, Syria and Yemen, and the emergence of the Islamic State have led to revolutionary transformations in governance structures. The governments of the region, struggling to cope, have turned to the security sector for support.
The new Western way of war in the post-Vietnam era is typified by the transfer of risk from soldiers to enemy civilians to reduce their own casualties and, by implication, the political costs stemming from the growing domestic social sensitivity to casualties.1 Risk transfer is accomplished by using excessive lethality with relatively limited discrimination between combatants and noncombatants. Exercising greater caution to avoid civilian casualties probably increases the danger to soldiers.
With the erosion of state power in the face of conflict, functional equivalents of government are often rapidly adopted, supported by systemic practices1 and an array of local and international actors.2 The consolidation of local governance is beneficial in the short term due to its capacity to provide security, governance and economic welfare in situations of grave need.
The geopolitical significance of the Mediterranean Sea region is the result of three factors: its location at the junction of Europe, Asia and Africa; its significant international sea routes and straits — Gibraltar, Bosphorus, Dardanelles, Suez Canal — and its potential as a source of oil and natural gas. Recent gas discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean have only reaffirmed this potential. They have resulted in a set of significant geoeconomic decisions concerning the development of flows and exchanges in the form of traded gas.
Innumerable mutual benefits have ensued from the strategic and diplomatic relationship fostered between Russia and Iran over the last five years. These large, stable Eurasian states show remarkable potential for cooperation. The Islamic Revolution was a milestone in Iran's relationship with its northern neighbor; as the country began to redefine its relationship with the West, stronger economic ties with Russia tended to emerge naturally. The energy industry was an obvious locomotive for such collaboration.
Europe and Iran: The Nuclear Deal and Beyond, by Cornelius Adebahr. Routledge, 2017. 196 pages. $149.95, hardcover.
Nuclear Multilateralism and Iran: Inside EU Negotiations, by Tarja Cronberg. Routledge, 2017. 130 pages. $70.00, hardcover.
June 2017 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Six-Day War, a very short military confrontation between Israel and its three immediate Arab neighbors that reshaped the political geography of the Middle East.
The murder of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in 1914 and the suicide of Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi in 2011 have each had a prodigious impact on the world.
In his new book, False Dawn: Protest, Democracy, and Violence in the New Middle East, Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies Steven A. Cook has prepared an insightful account of recent developments in certain key countries.
The Kurds, who are often referred to as the world's "largest stateless" nation, have rebelled numerous times in the past century against repressive and assimilationist policies in four key Middle Eastern states: Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.