Worry More About Iran Than North Korea

An Iranian woman walks by a mural of the Statue of Liberty painted on the wall of the former American embassy in Tehran, June 27, 2006
An Iranian woman walks by a mural of the Statue of Liberty painted on the wall of the former American embassy in Tehran, June 27, 2006 (Pooyan Tabatabaei)

North Korea’s nuclear program is more advanced than Iran’s yet it is not the one that should keep Americans up at night, argues Adam Garfinkle, a foreign-policy expert.

President Donald Trump has threatened “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if North Korea continues to provoke the United States.

Garfinkle doesn’t share his sense of alarm. Read more

Donald Trump Wants Conflict with Iran

American president Donald Trump reviews troops at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, February 6
American president Donald Trump reviews troops at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, February 6 (DoD/D. Myles Cullen)

By all accounts, Iran is complying with the 2015 multilateral agreement that curtailed its nuclear program. The country is giving full access to inspectors, who have found no violations.

The only person upset by this is Donald Trump.

The New York Times revealed earlier this month that the American president had only reluctantly certified Iran’s compliance with the deal.

Now the same newspaper reports that he has instructed his team to find a way to declare Iran noncompliant — whether it is or not.

Congress requires the president to certify every three months that Iran is meeting its obligations under the agreement. If Trump doesn’t, then lawmakers have sixty days to restore sanctions that were rescinded in 2015. Read more

The Future of the Middle East is Turkey, Iran and Islamic Socialism

Dutch foreign minister Bert Koenders is shown a map of Turkey in Ankara, January 6, 2015
Dutch foreign minister Bert Koenders is shown a map of Turkey in Ankara, January 6, 2015 (BZ/Aad Meijer)

It may not seem it, what with the Islamic State’s suicide bombers lashing out, Israeli soldiers shooting wounded Palestinians and the war in Yemen grinding on, but the Middle East’s broad new outlines are starting to show.

They appear in front of the Turkish tanks on their way to Raqqa; in the brightly-lit press conferences of the White House; in the ballot printing factories of Tehran and in the banks of Dubai.

They are both a return to history and step further into it. Nation states founded on the borders of great empires are reasserting themselves and the assault on neoliberal economics will give way to Islamist socialism. Read more

After Mosul Falls, What Then?

A Kurdish fighter waits on the frontline a few hours before the start of the offensive on Mosul, Iraq, October 18
A Kurdish fighter waits on the frontline a few hours before the start of the offensive on Mosul, Iraq, October 18 (Quentin Bruno)

There are some 100,000 troops involved in the conquest (or reconquest, depending on your perspective) of Mosul. On the surface, the battle is meant to restore the Iraqi government to its full writ; a Baghdad-united Shia and Sunni realm, a nation state on the way to functionality. In other words, a normal country.

Ah, dreams.

Careful observation reveals a more wretched future. The Islamic State may be doomed, but that hardly means peace for Iraq. There are too many who want a piece of this particular pie.

Many players there are. Let’s start with the greatest of powers, who define the broadest outlines of geopolitics in the Middle East. Read more

Russian Strikes from Iran Point to Burgeoning Anti-Western Pact

Presidents Hassan Rouhani of Iran and Vladimir Putin of Russia meet in Shanghai, China, May 21, 2014
Presidents Hassan Rouhani of Iran and Vladimir Putin of Russia meet in Shanghai, China, May 21, 2014 (Presidential Press and Information Office)

For the first time in an almost year-long bombing campaign, Russian aircraft have used facilities in Iran to conduct strikes against in the Syrian cities of Aleppo, Deir ez-Zor and Idlib.

Iranian-Russian military cooperation is not unprecedented. The two took part in joint naval exercises in the Caspian Sea last year and Russia launched a salvo of missiles across Iranian territory into Syria. However, this latest news underlines the budding relationship between the two.

I have previously written that the close proximity of Russian air forces and Iranian ground forces in Syria raises questions about the two powers’ relationship. Fighting wars together — even those as convoluted as Syria’s — is something allies tend to do. This particular cooperation has been controversial, though, with many commentators suggesting that the Iranian-Russian alliance in Syria is one of convenience. Read more

Don’t Take Iran Becoming a Better Place for Granted

View of Tehran, Iran, July 8, 2010
View of Tehran, Iran, July 8, 2010 (Nima Hopographer)

While America’s upcoming election fills many with worry, the Islamic Republic of Iran had a quiet yet meaningful election all of its own. The results shoved aside the hardliners who have for so long dominated Iran’s many branches of the Islamic republic, stuffing the all-important Assembly of Experts with relatively moderate forces poised to elect a supreme leader with the potential to turn Iran into a force for stability.

But no geopolitical road runs straight forever. There are many forces that might upset this applecart. Here now is the tale of Iran’s revolution, evolution and potential path forward. Read more

Iran’s Elections Unlikely to Matter Much

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani votes in parliamentary elections, February 26
Iranian president Hassan Rouhani votes in parliamentary elections, February 26 (Presidency of Iran)

Elections in Iran on Friday are unlikely to have a big impact on how the Islamic country is governed.

Iranians are choosing both a new parliament and members for the Assembly of Experts, a clerical body that appoints the supreme leader.

But hundreds of reformist candidates have been barred from running, ensuring that conservative lawmakers will keep their majority, while the assembly is really toothless.

Indeed, neither of the two institutions has much power, argues the Council on Foreign Relations’ Ray Takeyh.

Parliament is unlikely to act with much decisiveness, he writes, while the Assembly of Experts will probably not choose the next leader but rather rubber stamp a selection made by others. Read more