Three Pawns in the “Great Game”

The Early CIA in the Middle East

by David H. Price
published in MER271

Hugh Wilford, America’s Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East (New York: Basic Books, 2013).

Middle East scholars have long been aware of the CIA’s power and swagger in the region, yet their studies rarely mention the Agency beyond passing references, and the CIA’s role in events is seldom the primary focus of academic works. There are several reasons for this lacuna, not the least of which are the methodological obstacles to studying secret activity.

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"Energy Security"

Genealogy of a Term

by Toby Jones
published in MER271

Over the last few decades, the phrase “energy security” has spread like an oil spot from specialized literature outward into the standard lexicon of reporters and politicians. Like “security” itself, it is a term whose meaning seems transparent but resists precise definition, in part because the meaning is not immediately obvious and in part because the meaning seems to expand as time goes by. What is “energy security”? Why did it become so prominent in discussions of global politics in the late twentieth century and why is it so important today? We asked Toby Jones, associate professor of Middle East history at Rutgers University and an editor of this magazine, to supply some clarity about this concept. Jones is working on a book that will treat this subject in depth.

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Catastrophe and Consequence

by The Editors | published June 13, 2014 - 4:01pm

What is happening in Iraq is a catastrophe, but not a sudden one. The violence in Iraq has been worsening steadily over the last few years. And more to the point, today’s crisis is the consequence of failed policies and failed politics -- national, regional and international -- years and even decades in the making.

No understanding of today’s Iraq is complete without the background of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and ensuing Gulf war, and the 13 years of UN economic sanctions, all of which set the stage for the additional disasters that would befall Iraq with the US-led invasion of 2003.

Petraeus’ Real Failure

by Laleh Khalili | published June 12, 2014 - 12:38pm

On the sidelines of the catastrophic failure of the Iraqi army to hold back the militias of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (or ISIS, as it is usually known), and the fall of Mosul to that group, a debate is taking place in the United States about whether this turn of events is yet another black mark in the massive ledger of retired Gen. David Petraeus. As Anne Barnard of the New York Times tweeted, “Remember the ‘Mosul miracle’ under Petraeus?”

Indyk vs. Indyk

by Jamie Stern-Weiner | published May 12, 2014 - 11:31am

Israelis and Palestinians share responsibility for the collapse of Middle East peace talks. That was the message delivered on Thursday by US special envoy to the peace process Martin Indyk, in a speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). Israel issued tenders for 4,800 settlement units during the talks, he noted, while on the Palestinian side, accession to international treaties and reconciliation with Hamas had been “unhelpful” to US efforts to rescue an already faltering process.

Washington Gets “Less Crazy”

by Chris Toensing | published May 9, 2014 - 2:27pm

Yesterday the New America Foundation (NAF), a center-left think tank located one block north of big, bad K Street, hosted a discussion about the 1948 war, the expulsion of Palestinians from what would become Israel, the new state’s imposition of a draconian military regime upon the Palestinians who managed to stay inside the armistice lines, and all that this painful history implies for the present and the future.

From the Editors

by The Editors
published in MER270

“Will China dominate the twenty-first century?” So asks the title of a short book by Jonathan Fenby, a British journalist who was editor of Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post during the period when that bustling entrepôt was being transferred from British control to the sovereignty of the People’s Republic.

In Egypt, Nasty Business as Usual

by Steven Brooke | published April 29, 2014 - 9:18am

Egypt certainly has a penchant for tragicomedy. A week after prosecutors in the terrorism case against Al Jazeera employees introduced a video of sheep farming -- among other absurdities -- as evidence, a judge in southern Egypt sentenced 683 alleged supporters of the Society of Muslim Brothers to death. Last month the same judge pronounced the same sentence upon 529 other members of the group.

"Progress" in Afghanistan, Then and Now

by Darryl Li | published April 24, 2014 - 2:06pm

I recently came across a document in the archives, a reminder that the march of “progress” in Afghanistan sometimes seems more reminiscent of a never-ending marching band reliably circling a parade ground. The martial metaphor here isn’t accidental: As elsewhere, security forces have been central to nearly every attempt to make Afghanistan a “modern” nation-state, a pattern echoed in today’s Beltway anxieties over how many local troops are deemed “ready” to take over in the event of a US withdrawal.

A Loveless Diplomatic Marriage with No Future

by Amanda Ufheil-Somers | published April 16, 2014

Among the would-be therapists of the foreign policy world, the alliance between the United States and Saudi Arabia is a textbook case of a “loveless marriage.”

Though the values of the two states are at odds, or so the thinking goes, the great democracy and the absolute monarchy are bound together by mutual interest in the stability of the Persian Gulf, home to almost half of the world’s proven oil and natural gas reserves.