Original pieces written by Atlantic Council staff or affiliates.
  • Muqtada al-Sadr: From US Foe to Iraqi Kingmaker

    The checkered and turbulent past of the man best poised to take on the role of “kingmaker” in Iraq may return to impact his ability to form a government, and Iraq’s relationship with the United States.

    The ethnically and politically diverse Alliance of Revolutionaries for Reform, led by prominent Iraqi political figure Muqtada al-Sadr, won the greatest number of seats in the May 12 Iraqi parliamentary elections on an anti-corruption, Iraq-first platform. Whether Sadr has the ability and desire to form a government committed to a better future for all Iraqi people, remains uncertain.

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  • Italy May Soon Be Led by an Anti-EU, Pro-Putin Coalition

    Italy’s populist Five Star Movement and the League have finalized a coalition agreement that challenges the consensus of the European Union (EU).

    There are still a couple of hurdles to be cleared: the parties have yet to agree on a candidate for prime minister and supporters of the Five Star Movement are voting in an online poll this weekend to approve or reject the agreement. Given that many Five Star voters come from the left and the League is far to the right, the outcome could be a surprise. But if the party leaders get their way, Europe’s fourth-largest economy will soon be governed by an anti-EU coalition.

    There are two immediate challenges for the rest of the EU.

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  • Why North Korea is Not Libya

    US National Security Advisor John Bolton infuriated North Korea by suggesting that Libya’s experience with denuclearization could serve as a model for Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons. The comment sparked swift condemnation from North Korean officials.

    That Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who in 2003 made the deal to give up his weapons of mass destruction capabilities, was toppled in an uprising eight years later and killed by his captors is an important fact that has weighed on the minds of the North Koreans as they consider the fate of their own nuclear weapons program.

    In light of this concern, Bolton’s comment has thrown into doubt the prospects of a much-anticipated summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald J. Trump in Singapore on June 12.

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  • Venezuela’s Sham Election

    Nicolás Maduro is expected to be re-elected president of Venezuela on May 20 in an election that most experts agree is a sham the United States and several Latin American countries have refused to recognize, and the European Union wants suspended until the conditions are suitable to organize a free and fair vote.

    “Rather than an election, it is really an electoral event because we know who the winner will be on May 20,” said Jason Marczak, director of the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center.

    “All the conditions leading up to the electoral event—including the barring of opposition candidates, the lack of international observation, the government control of the electoral council, the scare tactics imposed on the people—means that whatever the outcome is it will be the one chosen by the Maduro regime,” he added.

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  • Cause to Celebrate Democracy in Southeast Asia

    Southeast Asia does not often get the attention it warrants in Washington, but a cluster of events this month deserve reflection and celebration for showing that democracy in Southeast Asia is still a force to be reckoned with.  

    Namely, two elections in May bucked a growing authoritarian trend in Asia with strong electoral processes resulting in new governments to reinvigorate their countries.

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  • Has The United States Jeopardized Its Prospects For ‘The Ultimate Deal’ In The Middle East?

    Early in his presidency, Donald J. Trump set out to achieve “the ultimate deal”: Israeli-Palestinian peace. The US president deputized his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, with the task, claiming the feat could be achieved within the first year of his administration.

    A little over a year later that “ultimate deal” is nowhere to be seen. Instead, the Trump administration appears to have further jeopardized its own prospects of brokering such a deal by relocating the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and again failing to acknowledge the potential for Jerusalem to also be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

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  • The Regime's Strategy in Southern Damascus: Securing its Southern Front

    The southern Damascus markets are devoid of essential food items; much like other areas currently under siege by Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which led to mass displacement of the population. The regime is now targeting Yarmouk Camp in southern Damascus and the surrounding areas; it launched a military campaign on April 19 and continues to impose a siege to control the area.

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  • The US-India Defense Partnership: Trending Upward

    In August 2017, US President Donald J. Trump signed into law the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), a bill designed in part to sanction countries doing business with Russia’s defense industry. Like some other US partners, India is at risk of CAATSA sanctions because the bulk of its defense inventory is from the former Soviet Union and it maintains substantial defense ties with Russia.

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  • Ukraine’s New Populists: Who They Are and Why They’re Dangerous

    Populists are flourishing almost everywhere. The demand for simple solutions in a complicated world makes their messages resonate.

    Ukraine is no exception. The country’s situation with numerous security and economic hardships provides fertile ground for populists.

    Over the last four years, Ukraine has embraced a number of painful structural reforms that have been partially successful. But so far they have not improved the wellbeing of ordinary citizens, although they may bring positive effects in the future. In the short-term, the poor often face worsening economic conditions.

    According to a recent poll by the Democratic Initiatives Foundation, 74 percent of Ukrainians say the country is moving in the wrong direction, and 50 percent identify higher prices with stagnant wages as the biggest problem.

    Populists are seducing precisely these types of people.

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  • Russia is Anxious About War. Here’s How the United States Should Respond

    US President Donald J. Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Iran nuclear deal may increase the prospects of instability in the Middle East. However, Russia is likely to interpret this instability through the prism of what many politicians and analysts in Moscow like to call the “approaching global confrontation with the United States.”

    In April—just before the United States, France, and the United Kingdom launched airstrikes on Syria in response to a suspected chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime—members of the Duma, retired generals, and analysts in Moscow were convinced that the United States and Russia would come to blows over Syria.

    Even before the airstrikes, Chief of General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Gen. Valery Gerasimov announced in March that Russia would shoot down any US missiles fired at Syrian territory, and would target US aircraft and naval vessels if Russian forces were threatened.

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