The khan visits the tsar 

Brian  M Downing  King Salman of Saudi Arabia visited his counterpart in Russia last week – a further sign that events and alignments move quickly in the world. Such a visit was improbable two years ago when Putin sent his military to Syria against Saudi-backed rebels, and unthinkable thirty years Read More …

The Kurds face betrayal once again

Brian M Downing After the end of World War One and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the Kurds expected the statesmen at Versailles to recognize their right to self-determination. An independent Kurdish state appeared within reach. The British, French, Turks, and Persians had other ideas. Partition and repression followed. Read More …

Kurdistan weighs independence 

Brian M Downing  The people of the Kurdish region in northeastern Iraq voted on independence this Monday. Turnout was high and authorities report a 92% yes vote. The Kurdish government will decide whether to formally declare independence or remain an autonomous part of Iraq – a highly autonomous part. The Read More …

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 …

The United States and Israel take aim at detente in the Gulf

Brian M Downing  The march toward war in the Gulf has slowed in recent weeks. The Saudis, dispirited by stalemate in Yemen, and Iran, concerned by greater Sunni wealth and allies, may soon enter into talks. Both sides see the potential for mutual ruin with little to gain, except for 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 …

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 …

The Sunni-Shia conflict: the aims of belligerents

Brian M Downing  The conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran did not begin by the happenstance of a border dispute or the sinking of a passenger liner. It came about by international diplomacy as surely as a multinational trade agreement. As murderous and chaotic as wars are, they have a Read More …