Footing the Bill While Israel Thumbs Its Nose

by Chris Toensing | published April 8, 2015

It’s tax season again. How about a little accounting?

Every year, Washington sends $3.1 billion of taxpayers’ hard-earned money to Israel. It’s only fair to ask what Americans are getting in return.

That seems especially appropriate now.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is busy badmouthing the tentative nuclear deal with Iran, a major diplomatic achievement for the United States. And a few weeks ago, he declared his opposition to a Palestinian state, a long-standing US priority.

Some Good News from the Middle East

by Chris Toensing | published February 25, 2015

There’s not much good news coming out of the Middle East these days.

But one reason to take heart is the progress of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the West. Even as new conflicts sprout up elsewhere, a three-decade standoff between Tehran and Washington could be heading for a breakthrough.

The talks have gone more slowly than many supporters had hoped, with negotiators twice having to extend their deadlines. But that should come as no surprise.

After all, there’s over 35 years of mutual antipathy to overcome, and the technical details are tricky. Plus, Iran’s domestic politics -- like our own -- are complicated, with hardliners always accusing the pragmatic president of going soft.

Doubling Down on Dictatorship in the Middle East

by Amanda Ufheil-Somers | published December 30, 2014

For a moment, four years ago, it seemed that dictators in the Middle East would soon be a thing of the past.

Back then, it looked like the United States would have to make good on its declared support for democracy, as millions of Tunisians, Egyptians, Bahrainis, Yemenis, and others rose up to reject their repressive leaders. Many of these autocrats enjoyed support from Washington in return for providing “stability.”

Yet even the collapse of multiple governments failed to upend the decades-long U.S. policy of backing friendly dictators. Washington has doubled down on maintaining a steady supply of weapons and funding to governments willing to support U.S. strategic interests, regardless of how they treat their citizens.

Burying the Hatchet with Iran

by Chris Toensing | published November 5, 2014

Don’t tell anyone, but the United States and Iran are getting closer -- perhaps closer than ever -- to letting go of 35 years of enmity.

No, Washington and Tehran aren’t going to be BFFs or anything.

But they do share a common interest in rolling back the so-called Islamic State, whose well-armed militants have declared an extremist Sunni caliphate stretching across Syria and Iraq.

The United States is anxious to restore the Iraqi government’s authority in oil-rich Iraq, while Iran is eager to defeat a murderously anti-Shiite militia on its western flank.

The Next Round of an Unwinnable War Beckons

by Amanda Ufheil-Somers | published September 17, 2014

Once again, a U.S. president vows to eliminate an extremist militia in the Middle East to make the region, and Americans, safe.

And that means it’s time again for a reality check. Having failed in its bid to destroy the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, the United States is still trying to dismantle both organizations. Over the course of 13 years of war, that mission has spread to Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Mali, and West Africa, as militant groups on two continents have adopted the al-Qaeda brand.

Not Much Better Than Bush

by Amanda Ufheil-Somers | published July 23, 2014

President Barack Obama got it right when he declared: "There's no military solution inside of Iraq, certainly not one that is led by the United States."

But his Iraq track record doesn’t mark much of an improvement over the mess his predecessor made.

Modernizing Memorial Day

by Amanda Ufheil-Somers | published May 28, 2014

Whoever made the decision to open the National September 11 Memorial Museum just a few days before Memorial Day was both bold and intuitive. The theme of remembrance unites both events, but the 9/11 memorial is a departure because it is dedicated to those so often forgotten in the recollection of national sacrifice—civilians.

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.

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.

Seeing Through the Fog

by Amanda Ufheil-Somers | published January 3, 2014

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was full of tough talk when he visited the island kingdom of Bahrain in early December.

The United States, he vowed, will continue to guard “the free flow of energy and commerce” from the Persian Gulf and keep Iran nuclear-free, through the presence of 35,000 US military personnel or the (as yet unproven) regional missile defense system.

Hagel also trumpeted the American commitment to “political reform” in the Gulf region. But the Pentagon chief uttered not a word about the hundreds of Bahrainis languishing in prison -- many without adequate medical care -- for demanding the very rights he says they deserve.