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Vladimir Putin Has a Plan to Upend the Political Order of the Middle East. Spoiler Alert: It’s Working

Author: Steven A. Cook, Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies
March 5, 2017


In Washington, whenever the idea of Kurdish independence from Iraq comes up, all kinds of experts, former diplomats and officials declare, “Never going to happen.” Without fail, the assertion is always backed up with an elegant and well-informed statement of the serious challenges facing Iraqi Kurds, leading to the conclusion that a declaration of independence is “not rational.”

Yet there remains the possibility that Iraqi Kurds may decide to make, perhaps in the near future, a decision that would be entirely rational. This gap is linked to the difference between what analysts think Kurds should do — based on these observers’ calculations of Kurdish politics and interests — and the way Kurds and their leaders actually look at the world. It is a problem that can leave American officials surprised by “unexpected” events and behind the curve on developing appropriate policies.

The debate about the Kurds is one among many examples of this questionable thinking that informs U.S. foreign policy. Consider the case of Iran in Syria, for instance. By now the Iranians were supposed to have been exhausted from their support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, in no small part because of the financial strain of maintaining the fight. And yet the Iranians remain.

Then there are the Russians, who were not supposed to move into eastern Ukraine and annex Crimea because of Moscow’s limited capabilities and NATO’s likely punitive response. Here we are, though. The Iranians (and Russians) are helping the Assad regime unencumbered, and the Russians have not backed away from their intervention in Ukraine, despite Western sanctions.

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