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 …

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 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 …

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 …

Can Trump and Putin ease the Syrian civil war? (Will they be condemned for doing so?)

Brian M Downing Presidents Trump and Putin met privately last week at the G20 conference in Hamburg. Talks lasted well over two hours, far longer than expected. Details are unknown but there is hope that the two leaders see little good coming from sharper confrontation in the Levant and prefer to reduce the fighting. 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 …

The US takes on Iran and the Shia Corridor

Brian M Downing  Candidate Trump promised a tougher stance toward Iran. He deplored the P5+1 deal that required Iran to dismantle critical parts of its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. President Trump has altered many of his positions but remains hostile toward Iran. The position advanced here recently 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 …

The US and China take aim at North Korea

Brian M Downing  Presidents Trump and Xi met last week at the former’s estate in Florida and discussed bilateral trade and world conflicts. Conversation was interrupted briefly as word came of the missile strikes on Syria. It was an opportune moment as the two powers discussed North Korea during the meeting. Shortly Read More …