"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.

Learning from the Past in the Iranian Nuclear Dispute

by Tytti Erästö | published April 16, 2014

The controversy over the Iranian nuclear program is in many ways a product of the US-Iranian conflict. The United States and Iran are in the grip of mutual negative perceptions that, in turn, have been reinforced by the escalatory dynamics of the nuclear dispute. After years of seeming diplomatic deadlock, these dynamics suddenly changed for the better in the autumn of 2013. The positive trends culminated in November, when Iran agreed with the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany, the so-called P5+1, on a confidence-building deal known as the Joint Plan of Action (JPA). Given the record of diplomatic non-achievement, the deal is a historic development.

Death and Taxes

by Amanda Ufheil-Somers | published April 15, 2014 - 1:25pm

Last year 27 cents of every income tax dollar in the United States went to the military. Even so, that proportion has not generated enough revenue to pay for the military’s operations over the last 13 years, which, in a historic departure, have been funded largely by borrowing.

Preening Like a State

by Darryl Li | published April 3, 2014 - 3:21pm

On Tuesday, Mahmoud ‘Abbas surprised peace processers by making use of Palestine’s recently upgraded status as a UN-recognized “state” to sign 15 international agreements, mostly concerning human rights, humanitarian law and diplomatic protocol. The move was announced at a hastily convened meeting of the PLO executive committee, but appears to have been carefully crafted to support extending the US-sponsored negotiations that have dragged on haplessly over the past nine months.

Stuck (or Not) in a "Special Relationship"

by Toby Jones | published March 27, 2014 - 2:20pm

What to make of the anxieties surfacing in the press in advance of President Barack Obama’s stopover in Saudi Arabia? Is the US-Saudi “special relationship” really in trouble?

Officials say no, of course. But beneath the surface, the relationship is indeed marked by uncertainty. The rulers in Riyadh have come to question Washington’s commitment to the kingdom’s security, to Saudi primacy in the Gulf and to what has been one of the region’s most durable (and profitable) alliances.

Romancing the Throne

by Sheila Carapico | published March 27, 2014 - 12:07pm

President Barack Obama plans an overnight stay in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on March 28-29 for a rendezvous with King ‘Abdallah. The enduring but always strange bedfellows have been quarreling of late over Saudi Arabia’s belligerent relations with neighbors Iran and Syria. Both sides hope during this visit to kiss and make up.

In-Laws and Outlaws

by Darryl Li | published March 26, 2014 - 2:38pm

A jury today convicted on all counts Sulayman Abu Ghayth, a Kuwaiti preacher who made televised statements in support of al-Qaeda shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001. As expected, war-on-terror liberals are seizing upon the outcome as proof that civilian courts are a superior alternative to military tribunals at Guantánamo. On Friday I blogged about some of the legal issues raised by the case and how it fits into broader US detention policies. Civilian trials are undoubtedly preferable to kangaroo courts at Guantánamo in principle and one hopes that the administration uses this verdict to finally close the prison in Cuba.

The Diplomatic Dance with Iran

by Chris Toensing | published March 26, 2014

A six-month diplomatic dance with Iran is underway—each step as dainty as a minuet because any misstep is weighted with danger.

The issue is Iran’s nuclear research program and the UN inspections that are taking place as a result. And while each side has its own agenda, they’re suspicious of the other’s motives.

Saudi Bullying of Qatar

by Sheila Carapico | published March 13, 2014 - 4:45pm

Just ahead of a planned state visit from President Barack Obama, Saudi Arabia is brandishing the threat of a land and naval blockade against its neighbor and fellow Gulf Cooperation Council member Qatar.