Turkey’s Purchase of a Russian Missile System, Explained

Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey meet in Saint Petersburg, August 9, 2016
Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey meet in Saint Petersburg, August 9, 2016 (Kremlin)

Russia sent Turkey a seventh batch of components for the S-400 missile defense system over the weekend. According to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, all S-400 missiles will be deployed by April 2020.

Erdoğan has also said he is planning to send specialists to Russia for training on how to operate the S-400s.

The deal has met stiff resistance from NATO allies, who are threatening to kick Turkey out of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. So why is it going ahead with the purchase? Read more “Turkey’s Purchase of a Russian Missile System, Explained”

Middle East Allies Are Wrong to Bet on Trump

Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey and Donald Trump of the United States pose for photos in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, May 16, 2017
Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey and Donald Trump of the United States pose for photos in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, May 16, 2017 (Turkish Presidency)

Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have all made their bed with Donald Trump. That’s paying dividends for them, but only so long as this president remains in power. What happens in two or six years? Read more “Middle East Allies Are Wrong to Bet on Trump”

Netanyahu’s Miscalculation

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán speaks with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, in Brasília, Brazil, January 2
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán speaks with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, in Brasília, Brazil, January 2 (Facebook/Viktor Orbán)

When Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu called early elections in December, he was probably expecting to shore up his mandate and escape allegations of corruption.

But the decision galvanized his opponents. Three former generals set aside their differences and teamed up with the opposition in a bid to oust Netanyahu, who has been in office since 2009.

It is starting to look like Netanyahu miscalculated. Read more “Netanyahu’s Miscalculation”

Europe Doesn’t Know How to Handle Trump, Macron Runs Tight Operation

German chancellor Angela Merkel speaks with American president Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, March 17, 2017
German chancellor Angela Merkel speaks with American president Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, March 17, 2017 (Bundesregierung)

Stephen Walt argues in Foreign Policy that the diplomatic crisis around the Iran nuclear deal shows European leaders don’t know how to handle an American bully:

[I]nstead of getting tough with Trump and warning him that Europe would both stick to the deal and defy any subsequent US effort to impose secondary sanctions on them, [France, Germany and the United Kingdom] chose to mollify and flatter Trump instead.

It seems to no avail.

It pains me to admit it, but Walt has a point:

[T]he European response to Trump shows how successfully the United States has tamed and subordinated the former great powers that once dominated world politics. After seventy-plus years of letting Uncle Sam run the show, European leaders can barely think in strategic terms, let alone act in a tough-minded fashion when they are dealing with the United States.

I do think this is slowly changing. Trump is a wakeup call. The EU is rushing new trade agreements with Japan and Mexico. France is leading efforts to deepen European defense cooperation outside NATO. The Balts and Scandinavians are remilitarizing.

But deferring to America is a hard habit to kick. Read more “Europe Doesn’t Know How to Handle Trump, Macron Runs Tight Operation”

Saudi Prince Mohammad Misreads the Tea Leaves in Washington

Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud
Ray Mabus, then America’s secretary of the navy, speaks with Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud of Saudi Arabia, November 28, 2016 (USN/Armando Gonzales)

Emboldened by perceived White House support, Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman appears to have stepped up his risky, so far faltering effort to counter Iranian influence in the Middle East.

The kingdom, despite Prime Minister Saad Hariri complicating Saudi efforts to curb the political and military power of Hezbollah, the country’s Shiite militia, by putting on hold his decision to resign, is signaling that it is looking beyond Lebanon to fulfil Prince Mohammad’s vow in May that the fight between the two rivals would be fought inside Iran, not in Saudi Arabia.

Speaking earlier this month, Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir warned that “any way you look at it, they (the Iranians) are the ones who are acting in an aggressive manner. We are reacting to that aggression and saying, ‘Enough is enough. We’re not going to let you do this anymore.'” Read more “Saudi Prince Mohammad Misreads the Tea Leaves in Washington”

Crown Prince Breaks Saudi Monarchy’s Two Pacts

Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud, the crown prince and defense minister of Saudi Arabia, arrives at the G20 summit in Hangzhou, China September 5, 2016
Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud, the crown prince and defense minister of Saudi Arabia, arrives at the G20 summit in Hangzhou, China September 5, 2016 (Bundesregierung)

Middle East expert Adam Garfinkle writes in The American Interest that by putting members of the royal family under house arrest, giving women the right to drive and removing the arrest power from the Islamic religious police, Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud has broken the two pacts that have held the monarchy together for more than half a century:

  1. The consensus of family elders that has kept factions in rough balance with each other and kept most contentions from public view.
  2. The duumvirate between the Al Saud and the Al Wahhab, the temporal and religious halves of the whole Saudi enterprise going back to the eighteenth century. Read more “Crown Prince Breaks Saudi Monarchy’s Two Pacts”

World Won’t Let Catalonia or Kurdistan Come Quietly onto the Map

Girona Spain demonstration
Catalans demonstrate for independence from Spain in Girona, October 1, 2014 (Ariet/Carles Palacio)

Catalonia and Kurdistan couldn’t seem farther away. One is nestled in the peace and prosperity of Western Europe, the other swims in the chaos of a dissolving Middle East.

Yet the two independence referendums of these would-be nation states are revealing. Both raise questions about the meaning of their regional orders and have provoked pushback from the status-quo world. Read more “World Won’t Let Catalonia or Kurdistan Come Quietly onto the Map”

Iraq’s Kurds Deserve the West’s Support for Their Own State

View of Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, May 10, 2011
View of Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, May 10, 2011 (James Gordon)

Western countries are falling into the familiar habit of discouraging Kurdish self-determination.

American and European officials have urged Iraq’s Kurds to delay their independence referendum, scheduled for next Monday.

The reasons are by now well-known: a Kurdish state would anger the Turks, destabilize Iraq and complicate the war against the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

All of which is true, but there will always be a reason to deny the Kurds self-rule. They have been stateless for generations. If it isn’t Turkish apprehensions today, it will be fears of an Iranian-Turkish condominium tomorrow.

The Kurds, one of the most progressive people in the Middle East, deserve better. Read more “Iraq’s Kurds Deserve the West’s Support for Their Own State”

After Caliphate’s Fall, A Spending Challenge

Since Iraqi troops seized back Mosul last month, the self-proclaimed Islamic State has been reduced to the area around Raqqa in Syria. Predominantly Kurdish forces are attempting to take the city, protected by Western airpower. Authorities estimate the number of Islamist fighters has dwindled from the thousands to the hundreds.

As soon as the caliphate falls, governments will face another challenge: the reconstruction. Read more “After Caliphate’s Fall, A Spending Challenge”

Saudi Arabia Tries the Waters of Retrenchment

Riyadh Saudi Arabia
View of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, October 17, 2014 (Andrew A. Shenouda)

In 2015, Saudi Arabia’s new minister of defense, Mohammad bin Salman, sent the kingdom’s armies to Yemen. In 2017, shortly before usurping the position of crown prince, Salman organized a blockade on little Qatar, which had dared defy the kingdom’s geopolitical priorities.

Both were bold moves fraught with risk. The Yemen war was meant to roll back Iranian influence on the southern border, deny ever-dangerous Al Qaeda a base and prove Saudi Arabia was a capable, independent military power that could fight without mighty America.

The blockade on Qatar was meant to secure the kingdon’s backyard. Regime-rattling Al Jazeera and the Muslim Brotherhood both enjoyed Qatari state support and, in uncertain times of economic restructuring and inevitable cultural change, having those two wildcards in the mix was not a game the Saudis wanted to play. Read more “Saudi Arabia Tries the Waters of Retrenchment”