In December, I spent nearly three weeks in Barcelona reporting on the parliamentary elections ordered by Madrid after the central government fired the Catalonian government in the wake of the October 1 independence referendum. What emerged was a more complex story. Deeply suspicious of a Spanish political system that they believe is racially and culturally biased against Catalonia, some Barcelonans question what Spain’s real agenda toward the Catalan people might be. There is skepticism about the value of the European Union to the ordinary person. And always –always – there are historical ghosts that still haunt Barcelona and all of Catalonia because of the legacy of a dead tyrant who still shapes Spanish politics to this day: Generalissimo Francisco Franco. Here is my article on Catalans’ hopes and fears regarding independence in the National Interest.
The Kurds are one of the best allies the United States has in the Middle East, second only to Israel in terms of a practical strategic partnership against Islamic extremism in the form of al-Qaeda and Daesh (ISIS). So why is the United States letting the Kurdistan Region of Iraq go to Hell in a handbasket? My article at Arc Digital lays out the reasons why Americans should give a damn about the Kurds.
From the archives: My article on Trinity, the world’s first atomic bomb, tested on this day 72 years ago.
It’s no secret that Syrian Kurds and Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga are among the staunchest allies the United States has in the fight against Daesh (ISIS). What’s less commonly known is American Special Operations Forces, more commonly known by their acronym SOF, work closely with Kurdish fighters. They are part of an expanding “shadow war” against Daesh that I examine in my latest piece at NRT English.
Kurdish-led forces have surrounded Raqqa, the de facto capital of Daesh/ISIS in northeastern Syria. Crucial to Daesh because it serves as a nerve-center for planning terrorist attacks abroad, it is also a potent symbol of the jihadists’ efforts to establish a caliphate.
Since I filed my column on Monday morning events have moved rapidly. Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (pictured above in a Reuters photo) held a media conference Tuesday. SDF spokesman Talal Silo told reporters and fellow fighters the “great battle to liberate the city” will be tough and bloody because Daesh “will die to defend their so-called capital.”
U.S. military officials echo that sentiment. Privately, some say they are hopeful that there might be a quicker outcome because of a better tactical situation than the Iraqi Army faced during the on-going siege of Mosul.
But no one expects Daesh to simply walk away.
In probably the most statesman-like speech of his presidency, Donald Trump on Sunday called on Muslim nations to unite behind the cause of defeating Islamic extremists around the world. But he didn’t stop there: He called out Iran as the leading state sponsor of terrorism. That’s a theme that preceded his address before and during his time in Saudi Arabia. My column for NRT English examines how Trump wants to change the narrative about Iran, not about his political woes.
According to the Associated Press, White House and Iraqi government officials are quietly negotiating increasing the number of U.S. troops deployed to Iraq — a reversal after both the Bush and Obama administrations reduced U.S. forces there.
The attitude can be summed up in a simple phrase now popular with the Trump administration national security team: The U.S. left Iraq too soon. The withdrawal of U.S. troops six years ago authorized under the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement between the U.S. and Iraqi governments led to political chaos and gave Daesh the opportunity to launch its insurgency.
My recent column for NRT English explores the questions raised by this development and continues my coverage of the issue.
Once upon a time, Donald Trump disdained U.S. international involvement and criticized his predecessors for what he considered a reckless and adventurous foreign policy. Now, his administration talks openly about the “international community” in the wake of Syrian gas attacks on its own civilians and Kim Jong Un’s threats of further nuclear tests. There is even the question of how the U.S. will continue to offer its services as a protector state to Syrian Kurds — an issue that is particularly timely because of Turkish airstrikes against the YPG. Here is my column about the evolution of Donald Trump and how it will shape American engagement in the international order.
It’s not about cruise missile strikes or Strykers rumbling into Daesh-held towns. Wherever the United States goes in the Middle East it plants its flag — and that means bases that allow U.S. fighting men and women to operate in places like northern Iraq and Syria. Here is my article on the inevitability of more U.S. bases in Iraqi Kurdistan. It’s my latest column for NRT English.
Well, I am being a bit snarky. U.S. Special Forces have been in Syria since 2014 as part of Operation Inherent Resolve. But the recent uptick in conventional forces there is significant — and under-reported in my opinion. Here is my round-up of the units now in Syria and their probable missions in the fight against Daesh/ISIS.