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  • Author: Thomas Pierret
  • Publication Date: 11-2013
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: The Syrian conflict's internal dynamics have reshuffled regional alignments alongside unprecedentedly clear-cut sectarian dividing lines; this has often occurred against the preferences of regional state actors−including Saudi Arabia and Iran. Foreign states have generally adopted expedient policies that followed sectarian patterns for lack of alternatives. Iran bears significant responsibility for exacerbating the conflict's sectarian character at the regional level. There is no such “diplomatic shortcut” to regional appeasement; it is the domestic Syrian deadlock that must be broken in order to alleviate sectarian tensions across the Middle East, not the opposite.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, International Relations, Foreign Policy
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia, Syria
  • Author: Sean Kane
  • Publication Date: 06-2011
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: The two rising powers in the Middle East—Turkey and Iran—are neighbors to Iraq, its leading trading partners, and rapidly becoming the most influential external actors inside the country as the U.S. troop withdrawal proceeds. Although there is concern in Washington about bilateral cooperation between Turkey and Iran, their differing visions for the broader Middle East region are particularly evident in Iraq, where a renewal of the historical Ottoman-Persian rivalry in Mesopotamia is likely as the dominant American presence fades. Turkey aims for a robust Iraqi political process in which no single group dominates, sees a strong Iraq as contributing to both its own security and regional stability, and is actively investing in efforts to expand Iraqi oil and gas production to help meet its own energy needs and fulfill its goal of becoming the energy conduit from the Middle East to Europe. Iran prefers a passive neighbor with an explicitly sectarian political architecture that ensures friendly Shiite-led governments; sees a strong Iraq as an inherent obstacle to its own broader influence in the region and, in the nightmare scenario, once again possibly a direct conventional military threat; and looks askance at increased Iraqi hydrocarbon production as possible competition for its own oil exports. Baghdad meanwhile believes that it can become a leader in the Middle East but is still struggling to define an inclusive national identity and develop a foreign policy based on consensus. In its current fractured state, Iraq tends to invites external interference and is subsumed into the wider regional confrontation between the Sunni Arab defenders of the status quo and the “resistance axis” led by Shiite Iran. Turkey has an opening in Iraq because it is somewhat removed from this toxic Arab-Persian divide, welcomes a strong Iraq, and offers the Iraqi economy integration with international markets. Ankara could now allay Iraqi Shiite suspicions that it intends to act as a Sunni power in the country and not allow issues on which Turkish and Iraqi interests deviate to set the tone for their relationship. The U.S. conceptualization of an increased Turkish influence in Iraq as a balance to Iran's is limited and could undermine Turkey's core advantages by steering it towards a counterproductive sectarian approach. A more productive U.S. understanding is of Turkey as a regional power with the greatest alignment of interests in a strong, stable, and selfsufficient country that the Iraqis want and that the Obama administration has articulated as the goal of its Iraq policy. On the regional level, a strong and stable Iraq is a possible pivot for Turkish and Iranian ambitions, enabling Ankara and hindering Tehran. Washington may well have its differences with Turkey's new foreign policy of zero problems with its neighbors, but the Turkish blend of Islam, democracy, and soft power is a far more attractive regional template than the Iranian narrative of Islamic theocracy and hard power resistance. The United States should therefore continue to welcome increased Turkish-Iraqi economic, trade, and energy ties and where possible support their development as a key part of its post-2011 strategy for Iraq and the region.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Economics, Imperialism, War
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Middle East, Arabia
  • Publication Date: 02-2009
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: The top concern for both Riyadh and Damascus remains blowback from Iraq: the ascendance of ethnic and sectarian identity and the spread of Islamist militancy. The need to contain this threat is the dominant force that shapes their relations with Iraq. Both Syria and Saudi Arabia have a vital interest in ensuring that Iraq's emerging political order is inclusive of Sunni Arab Iraqis, who have not yet been fully incorporated into Iraqi institutions. Syria and Saudi Arabia do not look at Iraq in isolation, nor do they assign it top priority among their foreign policy concerns. For them, Iraq is merely one element in a comprehensive view encompassing other regional players (including the U.S. and Iran) and other regional crises, particularly the Arab-Israeli conflict. Lingering resentment and bitterness toward Washington is now mixed with intense curiosity and modest optimism about President Barack Obama. Saudis still bristle when recalling how the Bush Administration sidelined Riyadh on Iraqi matters; as do Syrians, who believe the previous administration was intent on isolating and undermining Damascus. Iraq remains very much isolated in its neighborhood. Recent Progress on regional cooperation notwithstanding, these two neighbors are still focused more on containment than engagement.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Foreign Policy, Ethnic Conflict, War
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Middle East, Arabia, Syria
  • Author: Daniel Brumberg, Eriks Berzins
  • Publication Date: 06-2009
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: On February 23, 2009, the Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), together with the United Nations Association-USA and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, held a roundtable discussion among top Middle East experts and former United States Government officials. Held at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, the meeting's purpose was to discuss prospects for creating a diplomatic framework through which the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran can address issues of common concern in the Middle East and South Asia, and in so doing, advance an engagement dynamic that might eventually open the doors for rapprochement between the two countries.
  • Topic: Conflict Prevention, Foreign Policy, Peace Studies, Bilateral Relations
  • Political Geography: United States, Iran, Middle East, Asia, United Nations
  • Author: Elizabeth F. Thompson
  • Publication Date: 06-2009
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: Foreign affairs experts routinely use historical analogy to develop and justify policy. However, as professional historians have long noted, attractive analogies often lead to bad policies. Officials regularly choose analogies that neglect or distort the historical case they aim to illuminate. Nonetheless, history can be used effectively in international relations. To do so, practitioners must first recognize the difference between historical analogy and precedent. Historical precedent, drawn from the past of the region in question, is a safer guide to policy than historical analogy, which is based on comparisons to events in other regions. Because historical precedent is a self-limiting form of analogy restricted to a certain place, people, and time, it provides a better indication of how a certain society understands and responds to a given situation. The recent U.S. intervention in Iraq highlights the misuses of history: American leaders employed analogies to World War II to justify the invasion and to predict success in establishing a democratic regime after. These analogies proved to be a poor guide to nation building in the short term. In the long term, they have deeply aggravated U.S. relations with Iraqis and the rest of the Arab world. A more effective use of history would have been to refer to the precedent of World War I, a crucial moment when American policy could have supported indigenous Arab constitutional democracy—but, fatefully, did not. For the new administration, the Arabs' experience of “justice interrupted” after World War I can still be a useful touchstone for promoting democracy in the region. This precedent alerts us that foreign intervention can spark a deep-seated and negative political reaction in the postcolonial Arab world and that reform in Arab politics must begin with respect for national sovereignty. It also reminds us that constitutionalism and the desire to participate in the community of international law are enduring values in Arab politics.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Democratization
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia
  • Author: Elizabeth Detwiler
  • Publication Date: 01-2009
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: USIP recently hosted Dr. Ali Al-Dabbagh, official spokesman for the Iraqi government, He unveiled a far-reaching regional initiative to increase economic and strategic cooperation in the Middle East. The initiative represents a new level of consciousness and independence in Iraqi foreign policy.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Regional Cooperation
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East
  • Author: Alistair Harris
  • Publication Date: 03-2009
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: Last week's international donor conference to address the question of humanitarian assistance to Gaza underscores the myriad challenges confronting the process. Namely, how should the international community respond to the complex issues surrounding assistance in post-conflict recovery and reconstruction, particularly when several key donors reject any contact with Hamas, the governing authority on the ground? By any estimation, the Gaza reconstruction process will face several perplexing issues: How can billions of US dollars be effectively, transparently and accountably dispersed in a coordinated way, when several key donors and the Government of Israel reject any moves that will bolster the fortunes of Hamas, who m they classify as a terrorist organisation? What impact will an emerging Palestinian National Unity Government have on the mechanisms for overcoming many donors' reluctance to deal directly with Hamas? What opportunities and challenges does the reconstruction of Gaza pose for a rapprochement between Hamas and Fatah? Who will lead the reconstruction process and how will meaningful activity take place in the face of severe restrictions on access and movement? With Hamas in power in Gaza and Israel ref using to consider opening their common borders until kidnapped Israeli Defence Forces Corporal Gilad Shalit is released by Hamas, how is meaningful recovery and reconstruction even possible? In the absence of a credible political process, what use is reconstruction anyway if it merely returns the population of Gaza to their pre-conflict socio-economic imperilment? Lebanon faced a similar situation following the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Foreign Policy, Political Violence, Humanitarian Aid, Peace Studies, War
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Palestine, Arabia, Gaza, Lebanon