The Caravan

The Caravan

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Issue 1921

Toward a Middle East Strategy
Introduction
Introduction

The Collapsing Strategic Context

by Charles Hillvia The Caravan
Tuesday, March 19, 2019

In designing an optimal American strategy toward the Middle East, two factors stand out.  One is that now, as most always in the past, the climate of opinion is both “this is the last chance for peace” and “this is a time when nothing can be done”.  The second is that whatever happens in the region at this point in the 21st century will affect and be affected by negative and dangerous new trends in the other power centers of the world: China, Russia, the U.S., and even the European Union.

Featured Analysis
Featured Analysis

Why America Can't Quit The Middle East

by Hal Brandsvia The Caravan
Thursday, March 21, 2019

One of the most persistent myths about U.S. foreign policy is the idea that America desires—due to greed, messianic ideological impulses, or simple imperial presumptions—to dominate the Middle East. In reality, American policy has long been torn by two conflicting imperatives: The need to protect enduring U.S. interests, on the one hand, and the desire to stay clear of the region’s unending headaches, on the other. 

Featured Analysis

No Exit: The U.S. Predicament in the Middle East

by Henri J. Barkeyvia The Caravan
Thursday, March 21, 2019

“L'enfer est pavé de bonnes intentions” (the road to hell is paved with good intentions) goes a French expression. Years of American involvement in the Middle East to fashion a region that is stable, peaceful, more prosperous and more respectful of human rights has proven, so far at least, a failure. As a result, U.S. decision makers, thinkers and certainly the public at large are increasingly expressing their exasperation with that region.

Featured Analysis

Thinking About A Strategy For The Middle East

by Dennis Rossvia The Caravan
Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Strategy starts with understanding our interests and the objectives that flow from those interests.  In the Middle East, our interests have evolved but perhaps less than many may think.  After the Second World War, when the US assumed more global responsibilities, Democratic and Republican Presidents saw the Middle East as vital to our interests because of its oil and geo-strategic centrality.  The unimpeded flow of its oil was necessary for global economic health and for the reconstruction of Europe—which was perceived as an essential national security priority. 

Featured Analysis

“Going Short” In The Middle East

by Samuel Helfontvia The Caravan
Tuesday, March 26, 2019

In finance, “going short” is a way to make money on stocks that lose value. Nassim Taleb, the author of The Black Swan, reportedly used this tactic to make millions during financial crises. He did not know exactly when or why the markets would crash, but he knew they eventually would. Then he cashed in.  In many ways, going short is the opposite of traditional investment. In traditional investments one bets on success. In going short, one bets on failure. For over a decade, the United States has been trying to find a way to declare victory in the Middle East so that it can leave.

Featured Analysis

Middle East Perceptions Of An America Adrift

by Sanam Vakilvia The Caravan
Thursday, March 28, 2019

American strategy towards the Middle East has long been based on maintaining the twin pillars of security and stability in a region of geostrategic importance. At a crossroads between Europe, Africa and Asia, the Middle East has been historically significant for its energy supplies and passageways connecting the east and the west. To advance American interests, the United States has traditionally sought to maintain its position of influence through regional partnerships and with its military presence. Today though, there is a widespread perception that the US may be abandoning the Middle East. 

Featured Analysis

U.S. Middle East Strategy

by Samuel Tadrosvia The Caravan
Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Middle East remains today a troublesome area for the United States. American interests in the region are threatened by a host of adversaries from a resurgent Russia, a hegemonic Iranian desire and campaign of subversion, and Jihadi threat that has morphed from Al Qaeda to the Islamic State. Moreover, despite long U.S. investments and alliances, the region remains deeply anti-American. 

Featured Analysis

The US Role In The Middle East In An Era Of Renewed Great Power Competition

by Eric Edelmanvia The Caravan
Tuesday, April 2, 2019

What role should the United States play in the Middle East as its attention shifts to the objectives outlined in the National Security Strategy and the National Defense Strategy of competing with near peers like Russia and China?  Today pundits and observers are posing this question against a backdrop of more than a decade and a half of costly, inconclusive and seemingly “endless” wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the more recent deployment of roughly two thousand Special Forces troops to Syria as part of the counter ISIS campaign.  To President Trump the answer seems clear.  He noted in April 2018 at an Ohio rally “we’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon.

Featured Analysis

Getting Back To Basics

by Tony Badranvia The Caravan
Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Since the end of the Cold War — and, most dramatically, in the Bush and Obama years — American strategy in the Middle East has shifted from one anchored in the state system to one focused on non-state actors, particularly terrorist groups, and on projects disconnected from geopolitics.  The result has been the return — after nearly five decades — of Russian sway, the commandeering of large swaths of territory by Iran, and the emergence on the scene of China. The Russian-Iranian military campaign in Syria, and the increasing Chinese influence in the Middle East require a return to Cold War principles.

Featured Analysis

U.S Middle East Policy Must Contend With The New Power On The Block

by Afshin Molavivia The Caravan
Thursday, April 4, 2019

The year 1993 is not normally seen as a geopolitically defining year. As Bill Clinton took the oath of office in Washington, the big geopolitical events of the past few years -- the fall of the Soviet Union, the first Gulf War, the rise of newly independent Eastern European states - continued to reverberate but the world, it seemed, had entered the post-Cold War peace dividend era and the American unipolar moment. Across Middle East capitals, there was no doubt who the great power was in the world. The United States had no rival.

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Featured Analysis

Countering Iran While Retreating

by Reuel Marc Gerechtvia The Caravan
Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Time has almost run out for the United States to deny the Islamic Republic hegemony in the northern Middle East. The clerical regime has the high ground and the Americans are, at best, slowing Iranian advances. The approximately two thousand troops Washington has reportedly deployed to Syria, mostly in the north and the southeast, have prevented the Tehran–Moscow–Damascus axis from dominating all of the strategic locations in the country. But if President Trump really did tell Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he will cut military aid to the Syrian Kurds, the most reliable of America’s disparate anti-Islamic State “partners on the ground,” and he meant it, it’s a decent guess America’s military presence will diminish.

Featured Analysis

Whither Indonesia?

by Paul Wolfowitzvia The Caravan
Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The news from Jakarta last April 20 presented a very sad juxtaposition. On the one hand, there was US Vice President Mike Pence, expressing his admiration for Indonesia’s tradition of religious tolerance and moderation and reassuring Indonesians on behalf of the Trump administration, that the new visa restrictions would not apply to Indonesians.  At the same time, the Acting Governor (equivalent of Mayor) of Jakarta, Basuki Cahaya Purnama – commonly known as Ahok – was facing a court in that city on the criminal charge of blaspheming Islam. 

Featured Analysis

ISIS In Mindanao: A Threat To The U.S.?

by David S. Maxwellvia The Caravan
Wednesday, September 27, 2017

We should be clear: Mindanao is not Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan.  We cannot approach a province of our longest standing treaty ally the same way we do in Syria or any of the other 18 or so countries to which the ISIS virus as spread.

Featured Analysis

Chinese Citizens Beyond State Borders And The Perceived Threat Of Islamism In China

by Kelly A. Hammond via The Caravan
Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Islam came Islam came to China in the seventh century when Muslim envoys in the service of the third Caliph Uthman traveled to Guangzhou (previously Canton) to discuss trade and diplomacy with the Tang Dynasty (618-907). The Emperor Gaozong had a mosque erected in their honor, and for the next few hundred years the majority of Muslims in the Chinese empire were sojourners traveling from Arabia and Persia as merchants. It was not until the Mongol Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) that Muslims really started to settle permanently in China. The Mongols imported Persians and Central Asians to work as administrators and bureaucrats, while also deploying large embassies to places like Bukhara and Samarkand to facilitate trade and diplomatic relations. 

Featured Analysis

Islam, Islamism And US Strategy In Maritime Southeast Asia

by Russell A. Bermanvia The Caravan
Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Maritime Southeast Asia, the area circumscribed by the Malaysian peninsula, the Indonesian archipelago and the Philippines, is vital to US strategic concerns for two primary reasons. First, this region includes the South China Sea where American and Chinese ambitions may be heading toward direct conflict as China continues to press forward with its agenda of extending its reach.

Featured Analysis

ISIS In The Philippines: A Threat To US Interests

by Dr. Joseph Felter via The Caravan
Wednesday, September 27, 2017

On 23 May 2017, several hundred militants acting in the name of the Islamic State seized control of a portion of Marawi City, in the southern Philippines, after months of preparation and stockpiling of arms and munitions. The group was led by Isnilon Hapilon, a member of the Islamic extremist Abu Sayyaf Group whom ISIS named its Emir for Southeast Asia.  Isnilon Hapilon used ISIS’s extremist ideology to galvanize support amongst several disparate extremist groups, most notably Omar and Abdullah Maute, who founded Dawlah Islamiyah. 

Featured Analysis

Islamic Finance And Muslim Capitalist Modernity In Malaysia

by Patricia Sloane-Whitevia The Caravan
Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Islamic finance—the premises of which prohibits riba, or the payment of interest, requires that economic action be grounded in exchanges of actual, not speculative products, and shared profits and losses—is a booming industry worldwide. Few countries have committed greater financial, institutional, and educational support to its development than Malaysia. Launching its first full-fledged Malaysian Islamic bank, Bank Islam, in 1983, today Malaysia boasts the world’s third largest Islamic finance market (only Saudi Arabia’s and Iran’s are larger). 

Featured Analysis

Islamism In Malaysia: Politics As Usual?

by Meredith L. Weissvia The Caravan
Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Political Islamism has a long history in Malaysia. Before independence, the Pan-Malayan Islamic Party (PMIP, now known as PAS) splintered off from the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), retaining the latter’s racial aspect, but foregrounding Islam. Over time, that competition pushed UMNO, too, to emphasize Islam more. (About 61 percent of Malaysians are Muslim, almost 90 percent of them Malay or other bumiputera, indigenous groups.) 

Featured Analysis

Wahhabi Wannabes And Malaysia’s Moderate Muslim Myth

by Shaun Tanvia The Caravan
Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Malaysia isn’t usually associated with Islamic terrorism. Home to an ethnically-diverse population tending more towards torpor than unrest, Malaysia has had no major Islamic terror attack and no major outbreak of violence in more than forty years.

Introduction

Islamism In Southeast Asia

by Charles Hillvia The Caravan
Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The rise of radical Islam in the Middle East over the past few decades now may be reaching the Far East. This appears along a scale of seriousness from new levels of political concern to the reality of enhanced tensions and violence from west to east along an archipelago of national territories from Thailand’s Isthmus of Kra, down the Malaysian peninsula into Indonesia’s Sumatra, Java, and eastern islands, and up into Mindanao in the Philippines. Taken together, indeed with Indonesia alone, these lands hold by far the largest Muslim population in the world.

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The Caravan is envisaged as a periodic symposium on the contemporary dilemmas of the Greater Middle East. It will be a free and candid exchange of opinions. We shall not lack for topics of debate, for that arc of geography has contentions aplenty. It is our intention to come back with urgent topics that engage us. Caravans are full of life and animated companionship. Hence the name we chose for this endeavor.

We will draw on the membership of Hoover's Herbert and Jane Dwight Working Group on Islamism and the International Order, and on colleagues elsewhere who work that same political and cultural landscape. Russell Berman and Charlie Hill cochair the project from which this effort originates.