US Opinion and Commentary

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A Shaken Turkey Faces More Division and Instability

Posted July 18th, 2016 at 12:25 pm (UTC-4)
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By Barbara Slavin When news of an attempted coup in Turkey first broke on Friday, some Turks thought President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had planned it himself to distract attention from his many failures and justify a further doubling down of his authoritarian rule. Now, three days later, it is clear that the coup attempt was […]

U.S. and Turkey Clash Over Islamic State Lifeline to Syria 

Posted May 19th, 2016 at 9:40 pm (UTC-4)
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By Barbara Slavin It’s called the Manbij pocket and it’s a major impediment to the U.S. goal of defeating the Islamic State (IS) in Syria. The enclave in northern Syria, which borders Turkey for 60 miles, has remained open to IS infiltration. It is a lifeline for the IS “capital” of Raqqa that the Barack […]

Why Iran Should Focus on Turkey, not Russia, for Syria Cooperation

Posted May 19th, 2016 at 9:02 am (UTC-4)
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Iran and Turkey are most interested in the preservation of Syria’s territorial integrity…. Moreover, Turkey and Iran’s other interests in Syria — preserving a level of influence, maintaining stability in their neighboring regions and containing Kurdish centrifugal tendencies in the wider region — can only be served by preserving its unity and territorial integrity.

Sykes-Picot +100 Years

Posted May 18th, 2016 at 4:37 pm (UTC-4)
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100 years ago this week, a British colonel and a French diplomat drew a few lines on a map of the Middle East. Those lines were the first draft of borders that are still disputed, and battled over today.
Mark Sykes and François-Georges Picot were empowered by their governments to secretly work out an arrangement to split up the Levant part of the Ottoman Empire even before World War I was over.
Sykes & Picot came up with areas of British (area A and area in red) and French influence (area B and area in blue). The brown shaded area would be internationally administered. The secret plan was signed on May 16, 1916, two-and-a-half years before World War I ended.
Sykes-Picot was seen as a betrayal of the Arabs by the British, who promised their support for an independent state in exchange for Arab support against the Ottomans.
Memories of that supposed betrayal remain strong. When the Islamic State bulldozed the barrier marking Sykes-Picot border between Iraq and Syria in 2014 they tweeted #SykesPicotOver.
So, is a line drawn in the sand 100 years ago the cause of the Middle East’s problems today?
Like most issues involving the Middle East, ask 10 people and you will get 10 different opinions.

Would a Mideast Marshall Plan Work?

Posted April 22nd, 2016 at 12:14 pm (UTC-4)
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“We face, as the Marshall Planners did not in their dealings with Western Europe, the challenge of intervening in countries in which ethnic strife is high, democratic traditions are few, and America’s presence is a source of suspicion…”

Containing the Chaos of Migration

Posted April 13th, 2016 at 12:16 pm (UTC-4)
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It takes a lot to uproot oneself (and family), arrange travel via a trafficker, step onto a boat with a few possessions and no guarantees.They are called migrants or refugees—or both. Whichever term comes to mind, they are all people, many looking to improve their lot in life. But most, experts say, are running from instability and violence. According to the United Nations, the recent wave of migrants represents the largest dislocation of people since the Second World War. The estimated number of migrants in Europe runs in the hundreds of thousands, up to over a million registered asylum seekers. Thus, the term “migrant crisis,” which is useful shorthand, but doesn’t allow for the scale and scope of human suffering involved. As Europe struggles to cope with the influx (via the sea from Turkey or Libya into Greece or Italy, for the most part), America is bracing for the expected spillover.

Will Israel Reach Age 100

Posted April 12th, 2016 at 4:18 pm (UTC-4)
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The region in which Israel lives is melting down at a rate no one would have anticipated….if there are any state disappearing acts, these may be on the Arab side….even with all of their problems, the region’s three non-Arab states –Israel, Turkey, and Iran — are probably the most highly functioning polities in the region.

Europe’s Migrants Face Struggles Anew With Deportations

Posted April 4th, 2016 at 2:55 pm (UTC-4)
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Just days before Greece began deporting migrants to Turkey under a deal to ease Europe’s migrant crisis, Amnesty International released a report alleging the forced return of Syrians in Turkey back to the very war zone they fled. Not all of the migrants stuck in temporary centers on the coast of Greece are Syrian, but they are migrants nonetheless — vulnerable, stateless and subject to abuse. Fears that terrorists (Syrian migrants are the most likely to be targeted as such) are among them have been stoked from Europe to the United States, while others are protesting what they say is an inhumane policy. Every single person who is now deemed a “migrant” has a story, a compelling reason for leaving their homes, often under dangerous circumstances that are hard to imagine. Migration is a fact of life, historically documented. More than 100 years ago, America was the destination point for those hoping for a better life. Now it’s Europe’s turn. After deadly terrorist attacks in the heart of Europe — Paris and Brussels — the basic human desire to create a better life is colliding head on with rising fears that terrorist groups like ISIS can attack at any time and in any place.

The E.U.’s Deal on Migrants Is Immoral and Illegal

Posted March 15th, 2016 at 8:59 am (UTC-4)
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As it stands, the returns would contravene a number of European and international laws, including the European Convention on Human Rights, which states that a country must investigate each individual asylum case, and the 1951 UN Refugee Convention stating that no person be returned to a country where their life or freedom could be threatened.

Turkey, Russia Use Syria Refugees to Blackmail E.U.

Posted March 9th, 2016 at 10:33 am (UTC-4)
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By Barbara Slavin As the European Union struggles to find a way to reduce the inflow of Syrian refugees to manageable proportions, it is under pressure to downplay human rights violations by Turkey and Russia. Turkey, which has lost much of its democratic luster in recent years because of a crackdown on political opposition by […]

Fight or Flight

Posted February 22nd, 2016 at 2:00 pm (UTC-4)
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If the next U.S. president is unwilling to commit to stepping up to stabilize the Middle East, the only real alternative is to step back from it…civil wars do not lend themselves to anything but the right strategy with the right resources, trying the wrong one means throwing U.S. resources away on a lost cause.

How the Kurds Became Syria’s New Power Broker

Posted February 19th, 2016 at 11:59 am (UTC-4)
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The Kurds are skillfully playing the Russians and Americans off each other to extract as much influence as possible. Kurdish threats to defect squarely to the Russian camp propelled Brett McGurk, (U.S.) special envoy for the anti-(ISIS) coalition, to speed up a long-mulled visit to Kobani.

Mr. Erdogan’s Offensive

Posted January 11th, 2016 at 1:24 pm (UTC-4)
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Mr. Erdogan will never succeed in eliminating by force the PKK or Turkish Kurds’s aspirations for more autonomy, and by prosecuting his campaign he is impeding the fight against the Islamic State.

ISIS the Peacemaker

Posted December 18th, 2015 at 11:33 am (UTC-4)
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A lot of priorities are being reordered in the Middle East and North Africa now, thanks to the new threats that have emerged over the past year. This could, unexpectedly, lead to some ongoing problems being resolved

More ‘Special Operators’ Head to Iraq and Syria as Anti-IS Coalition Grows

Posted December 2nd, 2015 at 3:58 pm (UTC-4)
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By Barbara Slavin Galvanized by the terrorist attacks in Paris, President Barack Obama is sending another 100-200 Special Forces troops to the Middle East to augment the fight against the group that calls itself the Islamic State (IS). The decision, revealed Tuesday, is a cautious escalation characteristic of a president who campaigned on a pledge […]