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 …

The Sunni-Shia conflict: cohesion and disintegration at home 

Brian M Downing  See also my “The Sunni-Shia conflict: correlation of power.” Total war sets into motion certain forces tending to unify the nation under the stress of external threat to its existence, although their total net effect is probably less important than those forces making for the interruption of 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 coming struggle for Iraq

Brian M Downing  The Entente of Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States is determined to weaken Iranian-Shia influence. The effort has theaters in Syria, Yemen, Qatar, and Iraq. At times it will entail diplomacy and sanctions, other times military operations will be the rule. Both will be used in Read More …

The potential for escalation in eastern Syria

Brian M Downing The war in Syria seemed to settle after Damascus’s troops retook Aleppo early this year. Backed by Russian air power, government forces overwhelmed the determined but overmatched rebels and fighting declined. Meaningful negotiations did not follow. The war is now shifting to the east where the American-backed Read More …

American risks and rewards in the anti-Iran coalition

Brian M Downing The United States has entered into a portentous strategic partnership with Israel and a host of Sunni powers led by Saudi Arabia. The new Triple Entente was nominally formed to fight terrorism but actually to weaken Iranian-Shia influence from Lebanon and Syria to Iran. An initial move was Read More …

Making sense of Netanyahu’s Iran policy  

Brian M Downing  Prime Minister Netanyahu repeatedly warns of Iranian dangers to his country and the region. He tried more than once to persuade the United States to destroy Iranian nuclear sites and mobilized his considerable resources to press the White House into action. Neither of the previous two presidents obliged. Read More …

Are American troops going to stay in Iraq?

Brian M Downing  In 2008, late in the Bush administration, the Iraqi government ordered the US to withdraw its troops by the end of 2011. The Obama administration was not eager to argue. Nor could it have succeeded had it tried as US troops were fiercely disliked then. Facing a resurgent al Qaeda not Read More …

Where is the tough talk on Iran leading? (Yemen and the Levant)

Brian M Downing  The Trump administration is addressing world trouble spots. The most apparent ones are of course Syria, where the US retaliated for the government’s use of chemical weapons, and Korea, where a carrier strike group and missile shield have deployed. Only somewhat less apparent has been the renewed Read More …