Sources of instability in the Middle East 

Brian M Downing  The Middle East has been unstable for most of the past hundred years, but it’s more so today. Some reasons are long-term, others more recent. Long-term reasons include hostilities between the Shia and Sunni sects, artificial boundaries drawn by Britain and France after the Great War, the Read More …

Putin flexes his muscles in Cold War Two

Brian M Downing  Russia has begun a long anticipated military exercise with the code name “Zapad”, which means “West”. The size of the exercise is substantial, though estimates vary. Moscow officials say that about 14,000 Russian and Belarusian troops will be involved. Western counterparts, however, estimate that the two states Read More …

Obstacles to Saudi-Iranian detente  

Brian M Downing  Relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran began to deteriorate with the Khomeini revolution (1979) and worsened in recent years as Tehran’s nuclear program advanced. A proxy war has been underway in Yemen for several years and two more loom in Syria and Iraq. Armies trained more diligently, Read More …

The United States confronts Pakistan, at last

Brian M Downing  Last week President Trump outlined his Afghanistan policy. There was little new in it. More GIs, more money. That’s been going on since the Obama administration. What was new in the speech was the blunt criticism of Pakistan – a supposed ally but a duplicitous one that Read More …

Jihadism in Afghanistan and Central Asia

Brian M Downing  The Afghan conflict has burdened the United States since 2001, at least. Troops and money poured in though with little success in building stability. President Trump was inclined to pull out of what seemed a failed business venture but key advisors, mostly generals, dissuaded him. The US Read More …

President Trump’s war in Afghanistan 

Brian M Downing The US intervention in Afghanistan in 2001 expelled the Taliban in short order. Since then, efforts to modernize government and economy have failed and, predictably, a Taliban insurgency grew rapidly. The war stretched through the George W Bush years and those of Barack Obama. It’s now President Read More …

Are things cooling off in the Persian Gulf?

Brian M Downing  After months of denunciations, maneuvers, and boycotts, the Saudis are expressing doubts about its march to war with Iran. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, once a hawk, is said to favor ending the proxy war in Yemen. He is also thought to be seeking the good offices Read More …

The Trump administration’s options for Afghanistan

Brian M Downing Armies have come and gone from Afghanistan over the centuries. Alexander came through, saw no reason to stay, then wheeled south into the Indus valley, which he mistook for the Nile. A British army under WGK Elphinstone was annihilated in 1842 as it retreated from Kabul toward Read More …

The Sunni-Shia conflict: correlation of power

Brian M Downing  Hostility between the Sunni and Shia sects began in the seventh century as a fight over succession to leadership of the Islamic world. Was it to be descendants of the Prophet or his generals? The issue was settled, more or less, when the generals defeated Ali’s forces Read More …

The call of ISIL after Mosul and Raqqa

Brian M Downing Mosul and Raqqa will soon fall, leaving ISIL with no major cities, only a few towns in the thinly-populated expanses of eastern Syria and western Iraq. Its bold claim to be an ever-victorious army conquering vast lands across the Middle East for the new caliphate is becoming Read More …