Kenneth M. Pollack

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Turkish obstinance notwithstanding, it seems ever more likely that Finland and Sweden will soon join NATO. That is all to the good. The two Nordic countries are staunch democratic Western powers, and they have invested more in their defenses than most NATO members. Their inclusion will strengthen the alliance militarily, diplomatically, and geographically in Europe. Moreover, inducting them will make it undeniable that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was a grave mistake. Whatever Putin may accomplish on the ground in the Donbas—and even that seems increasingly up in the air—driving Finland and Sweden into NATO’s arms is a heavy price to pay.…  Seguir leyendo »

Security forces in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, August 2018. Asmaa Waguih / Redux

It seems fantastical, but observers may soon look back on the late twentieth century as a period of relative stability in the Middle East. Although there was no shortage of conflict and mayhem, the violence rarely led to dramatic change. No states were conquered and eliminated outright. Dictators came and went, but borders and even regimes changed little. After 1973, most of the major countries in the region stopped fighting one another directly, opting for terrorism and insurgency—strategies of the weak—over conventional attacks. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi took longer to learn. Indeed, Saddam never really learned at all.…  Seguir leyendo »

In Iraq, the good news always seems to come mixed with bad.

The good news right now is largely on the military front. Iraqi, Kurdish and American forces appear to be turning the tide against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

American air operations have inflicted heavy losses on the group — killing its fighters, destroying its equipment, disrupting its command and impeding its movements.

As a result, the Islamic State is more and more on the defensive. It has not made any significant conquests since the summer. During the past month, it mounted a major offensive in western Anbar Province but achieved only modest gains.…  Seguir leyendo »

The United States and its allies have finally begun to work out the terms of a nuclear deal with Iran. That’s hopeful because an agreement that forecloses Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons would be enormously beneficial.

Such a comprehensive accord would build on the Joint Plan of Action signed last November. That was a preliminary deal in which Iran agreed to pause its nuclear program in return for some modest relief on sanctions. The deal is set to expire in July, but can be renewed for another six months.

Washington seems focused on limiting the numbers and types of centrifuges that Iran would be allowed to possess, as well as the quantities and qualities of uranium it would be allowed to keep.…  Seguir leyendo »

We are still a long way from a formal international agreement restraining Iran’s nuclear program, but the contours of a deal — both an interim accord and the final agreement — are slowly coming together. It won’t be perfect, but our worst mistake would be to make an impossible ideal the enemy of a tangible, “good enough” agreement.

When negotiations resume this week in Geneva between the United States, Britain, France, China, Germany and Russia on one side, and Iran on the other, seems the two parties will concentrate first on sealing an interim deal that would freeze Iran’s nuclear progress in return for some modest relief from sanctions; once that happens, negotiators would turn to hammering out details of the final, critical agreement.…  Seguir leyendo »

This week, Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, will address the United Nations General Assembly. His message is likely to be a sharp change from the adolescent belligerence of his hard-line predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Mr. Rouhani is a genuine reformer — but his desire to move Iran in a new direction should not blind the United States to the difficulties of achieving a diplomatic solution.

Mr. Rouhani has hinted that he is willing to compromise on aspects of Iran’s nuclear program for the sake of repairing relations with the rest of the world and having economic sanctions on Iran removed. But he has also warned that he cannot hold off his hard-line rivals forever, and it is unclear whether the Iranians will be willing to make the kind of concessions that America and its allies want.…  Seguir leyendo »

“The beginning of wisdom,” a Chinese saying goes, “is to call things by their right names.” And the right name for what is happening in Syria — and has been for more than a year — is an all-out civil war.

Syria is Lebanon of the 1970s and ’80s. It is Afghanistan, Congo or the Balkans of the 1990s. It is Iraq of 2005-2007. It is not an insurgency. It is not a rebellion. It is not Yemen. It is certainly not Egypt or Tunisia.

It is important to accept this simple fact, because civil wars — especially ethno-sectarian civil wars such as the one burning in Syria — both reflect and unleash powerful forces that constrain what can be done about them.…  Seguir leyendo »

On Feb. 11, 1979, Islamic revolutionaries took power in Tehran. On Sept. 11, 2001, Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda terrorists launched their attacks on New York and Washington, killing nearly 3,000 Americans. On Feb. 11, 2011, Hosni Mubarak resigned as president of Egypt.

That these things all occurred on the 11th of the month is coincidental, but the events themselves are not unrelated. One of the worst mistakes Americans have made over these three decades has been to overlook their common roots.

The Muslim Middle East sits on a vast reservoir of popular anger and frustration over the region's economic, social and political dysfunction.…  Seguir leyendo »

With Washington’s attention understandably focused on the tragedy in Haiti, Iraq has slipped onto the back burner. Yet there is a major problem brewing there — one that could jeopardize President Obama’s plan to draw down American forces and even reignite sectarian conflict.

Last Thursday, Iraq’s Independent High Election Commission upheld a ban on nearly 500 Sunni politicians handed down (possibly illegally) some days earlier by the Accountability and Justice Commission. They were accused of having had ties to the Baath Party of Saddam Hussein. Among those proscribed from running in the nationwide elections scheduled for March 7 were Defense Minister Abdul-Kader Jassem al-Obeidi and Saleh al-Mutlaq, one of Iraq’s most influential Sunni politicians.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Iraq war isn’t over. And while President Obama’s apparent decision to withdraw the bulk of American troops by August 2010 is not necessarily a mistake, it cannot be carried out rigidly. If all continues to go well, it should be eminently feasible; if not,the administration will have to show the strategic wisdom to slow down as needed to deal with problems.

Having just returned from a trip to the country arranged by the top American commander there, Gen. Ray Odierno, we agree that Iraq continues to make tremendous strides, thanks to American assistance and, increasingly, the efforts of Iraqi politicians and security forces.…  Seguir leyendo »

Almost everyone now agrees there has been great progress in Iraq. The question is what to do about it.

Democrats led by Barack Obama want to take a peace dividend and withdraw all combat brigades by May 2010. Republicans like John McCain want to keep troops in Iraq until conditions on the ground signal the time is ripe. And now the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, has endorsed a timetable for withdrawal, though he seems to favor a somewhat slower pace than the Democrats propose.

If the Iraqi government tells us to leave, we should go. But this would be a bad deal for both Iraqis and Americans.…  Seguir leyendo »

You might think that $140 per barrel oil would be good for at least one part of the world, the Middle East. It’s too soon to tell for certain, but the region may well turn out to be the part of the world that suffers the most.

As painful as the current (or coming) oil-driven recession will be for Americans, it does seem to be convincing us to make the sacrifices necessary to diminish our reliance on oil. Over the long term, that could prove a huge boon for our economy, our environment and our national security.

In the Middle East, the situation may be reversed.…  Seguir leyendo »

For the fifth anniversary of President Bush’s declaration of the end of “major combat operations” in Iraq, the Op-Ed page asked nine experts on military affairs to identify a significant challenge facing the American and Iraqi leadership today and to propose one specific step to help overcome that challenge.

1.- Right the Wrong

By Nathaniel Fick, a Marine infantry officer in Iraq and Afghanistan and a fellow at the Center for a New American Security.

With eight months left in office, President Bush has the power to shape his successor’s inheritance in Iraq. And the over-arching imperative right now, as articulated by Gen.…  Seguir leyendo »

To mark this week’s fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, the Op-Ed page asked nine experts on military and foreign affairs to reflect on their attitudes in the spring of 2003 and to comment on the one aspect of the war that most surprised them or that they wished they had considered in the prewar debate.

Where Was The Plan?

Fifteen months before the 9/11 attacks, the bipartisan National Commission on Terrorism, on which I served as chairman, reported to the president and the American people that we faced a new and terrible threat: the nexus between states that supported terrorism and killers who wanted to murder Americans by the thousands and were prepared to die doing it.…  Seguir leyendo »

Viewed from Iraq, where we just spent eight days meeting with American and Iraqi military and civilian personnel, the political debate in Washington is surreal. The Bush administration has over four years lost essentially all credibility. Yet now the administration’s critics, in part as a result, seem unaware of the significant changes taking place.

Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms. As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily “victory” but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.…  Seguir leyendo »