Erdoğan-Putin Deal Tests Russian, Turkish Influence in Libya

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

Days after sending military aid to prop up the UN-recognized government in Tripoli, Turkey’s strongman, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has done a deal with Russia’s Vladimir Putin to halt the fighting in Libya.

Russian mercenaries fight on the side of warlord Khalifa Haftar, who controls the bulk of the country, including its oil industry.

Egypt and the United Arab Emirates also support Haftar, who has reportedly received Chinese-made drones and Russian-made air defenses from the UAE.

The Arab states see Haftar as a bulwark against Islamist influences, including the Libyan branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is part of the Tripoli government. Egypt’s generals overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood in their country with the backing of most Arab monarchs in 2013.

It is unclear what, if any, effect the Erdoğan-Putin deal will have. Artillery and missile strikes were reported on the outskirts of Tripoli in the early hours of Thursday. The promised ceasefire could be a test of Turkey’s and Russia’s influence over their proxies in Libya. Read more “Erdoğan-Putin Deal Tests Russian, Turkish Influence in Libya”

Don’t Pull NATO into the Middle East

Jens Stoltenberg Donald Trump
NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg and American president Donald Trump answer questions from reporters at the White House in Washington DC, April 12, 2017 (NATO)

American president Donald Trump has called on NATO to get more involved in the Middle East.

Speaking a day after Iran retaliated for the assassination of its top general, Qasem Soleimani, in Iraq by attacking American military bases in the country, Trump pointed out that the United States are no longer dependent on Middle Eastern oil.

He didn’t elaborate, but I can think of at least four problems with the idea. Read more “Don’t Pull NATO into the Middle East”

Soleimani Assassination Divorced from Strategy

Donald Trump
American president Donald Trump answers questions from reporters in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, July 18, 2019 (White House/Shealah Craighead)

The killing of Iranian military leader Qasem Soleimani in Iraq could turn out to be a brilliant gamble that in the long term stabilizes the greater Middle East.

More likely, it will be a major political and strategic problem for the region and the United States broadly speaking within the context of renewed great-power competition, particularly with respect to Sino-American competition. Read more “Soleimani Assassination Divorced from Strategy”

Trump’s Withdrawal from Syria Is a Disaster

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)

The calamity of Donald Trump’s withdrawal from northern Syria is hard to overstate.

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 beds 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 wake-up 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”