Costs and benefits of the Iran stance

Brian M Downing Candidate Trump made plain his opposition to the 2015 JCPOA, better known as the Iran nuclear deal. In recent weeks President Trump was on the path toward decertification, stiffer sanctions, and bolder confrontation. However, he faced opposition from his own cabinet and even from retired Israeli generals Read More …

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 …

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 …

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 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 …