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Category: Middle East and North Africa

Oct. 1, 2017

Asadism and Legitimacy in Syria

On July 11, 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asserted that Syrian President Bashar al-Asad had lost his “legitimacy,” presaging a U.S. policy favoring regime change in Syria.1 In August 2011, President Barack Obama stated that the “future of Syria must be determined by its people, but [Asad] is standing in their way. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for [Asad] to step aside.” However, nearly 6 years later, Obama has left office, while Asad rules a contiguous stretch of population centers and the majority of Syrians left in Syria. Mainstream analysis explains Asad’s resilience as a result of external factors, namely Russian and Iranian support, lack of alignment of foreign aid to opposition forces, and a subdued U.S. response to Asad and prioritization of fighting the so-called Islamic State. Likewise, analysis on the internal factors focuses the narrow but loyal support the regime enjoys from the ruling Alawite sect.3 The illegitimacy of the regime is assumed.

June 19, 2017

Strategic Competition: Beyond Peace and War

The struggle Morgenthau describes results in an evolving international distribution of power. After World War II, the majority of global power was divided between two poles until the fall of the Soviet Union gave rise to a unipolar system. The transformation of the international order continues today as rising powers join established powers, such as the United States, Japan, and the European Union, on the international stage. Although a more balanced distribution of power may have economic and humanitarian benefits, political and military tensions frequently accompany major transitions in the international order. Beyond the strains inherent as rising powers clash with those more established, the lack of globally dominant hegemons in a system of distributed power creates opportunities for revisionist state and nonstate actors to pursue their own, sometimes perilous, ambitions.

Oct. 29, 2016

The Return of Foreign Fighters to Central Asia: Implications for U.S. Counterterrorism Policy

Central Asia is the third largest point of origin for Salafi jihadist foreign fighters in the conflagration in Syria and Iraq, with more than 4,000 total fighters joining the conflict since 2012 and 2,500 reportedly arriving in the 2014–2015 timeframe alone. As the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) continues to lose territory under duress from U.S.-led anti-ISIL coalition activities, some predict that many may return home bent on jihad and generating terror and instability across Central Asia.

Oct. 1, 2016

The Danger of False Peril: Avoiding Threat Inflation

Just as a patient complaining of excruciating pain could still be best served by a wait-and-see approach, the best option in any given national security scenario might be to take no action at all. A calm and evenhanded assessment of the true scope of a perceived threat could be essential to avoiding an unwanted conflict.

Feb. 1, 2016

Posing Problems without an Alliance: China-Iran Relations after the Nuclear Deal

China is poised to increase economic and diplomatic cooperation with Iran as a result of sanctions relief under the recent Iran nuclear deal, though a close geopolitical alignment between the two states is unlikely.

Jan. 1, 2016

Advising the Afghan Air Force

Successful advising requires skill in a broad range of competencies that includes political-military relations, operations, and acquisitions. Advising the Afghan air force’s airlift mission seeks to strengthen the legitimacy of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan as part of the counterinsurgency strategy of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Training at the U.S. Air Force’s Air Advisor Academy supports the initial qualification of students as air advisors, while additional lessons are gleaned from studying the Soviet experience in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Finally, developing effective advising postures can be guided by a conceptual model that incorporates ideas outlined in Colonel John Boyd’s essay “Destruction and Creation”1 and by systems engineering techniques. This article breaks down the essential components of a successful air advising posture, applies it to the mission in Afghanistan, and concludes with a summary of key points and suggested areas for improvement.

Jan. 1, 2016

Eight Signs Our Afghan Efforts Are Working

As the defense attaché tasked with reopening the U.S. Defense Attaché Office in Kabul, Afghanistan, beginning in late 2014, I had the opportunity to watch “fighting season 2015” unfold from a proximate vantage point.1 I returned with the impression that Afghanistan is better than it might have been—and stable enough to warrant continued investment. In this article, I contend that the high level of American (and Western) pessimism regarding Afghanistan’s security status deserves reexamination. I offer some thoughts on why pessimism has come to dominate policy debates on Afghanistan, as well as observations on the realities of Afghanistan in 2014–2015 that merit balanced reassessment. I then conclude with eight observations that provide some basis for optimism for 2016 and beyond.

Sept. 1, 2015

Lessons Encountered: Learning from the Long War

Lessons Encountered: Learning from the Long War began as two questions from General Martin E. Dempsey, 18th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: What were the costs and benefits of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, and what were the strategic lessons of these campaigns? The Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University was tasked to answer these questions. The editors composed a volume that assesses the war and analyzes the costs, using the Institute’s considerable in-house talent and the dedication of the NDU Press team. The audience for this volume is senior officers, their staffs, and the students in joint professional military education courses—the future leaders of the Armed Forces. Other national security professionals should find it of great value as well.

Sept. 1, 2015



Sept. 1, 2015


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