Resolved: The United States Federal Government should increase its diplomatic efforts to peacefully resolve internal armed conflicts in West Asia (Region Overview)

Note: The terms and main arguments on the topic are covered here. The essay below is aimed at helping you develop an understanding of the conflicts within and between countries in the region.

In order to properly debate the resolution, it is important to understand what is going on in each country as well as conflicts particular countries have with other countries in the region.

Syria — Internal Conflicts

Major Players

Assad – Leader of Syria

Iran – Backs Assad
Russia – Backs Assad
ISIS – Brutal terrorist group that opposes the Asad regime
Hezbollah- Shiite-backed terrorist group that opposes the Assad regime

Kurds – US partner in Syria in the fight against ISIS; Turkey views the Kurds as terrorist group.

The United States (currently the has 900 disclosed troops in Syria) and pro democracy rebels.

Syria has been ruled by the Assad family since 1970 when Halfez Al-Asad in came to power. “He came from the Alawi minority, a heterodox Shia sect that had long been persecuted in Syria and was elevated to privileged positions under the post–World War I French mandate.”  [Council on Foreign Relations]. Bashar al-Assad succeeded his father in 2000 pledging to improve resource distribution amongst all interests.

The country was relatively stable until 2010 when  protests against the ruling Assad regime began. Zachary Taub explains:

The Arab Spring began in December 2010 with the self-immolation of a Tunisian fruit vendor decrying corruption. His act prompted protests in Tunisia, and then across the Middle East and North Africa, which forced longtime strongmen in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen to step down. Inspired by these previously unthinkable events, fifteen boys in the southwestern city of Deraa, Syria, spray-painted on a school wall: “The people want the fall of the regime.” They were arrested and tortured. Demonstrators who rallied behind them clashed with police, and protests spread. Many protesters were calling for something more modest than regime change: the release of political prisoners, an end to the half-century-old state of emergency, greater freedoms, and an end to corruption. Unlike Tunisia’s Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Assad responded to protesters immediately, offering just token reforms while directing security services to put down the protests with force. [Source: Council on Foreign Relations]

Taub further explained the complexities of the Syrian civil war and how difficult it will be to resolve it using only “peaceful” measures.

Ten years since protesters in Syria first demonstrated against the four-decade rule of the Assad family, hundreds of thousands of Syrians have been killed and some twelve million people—more than half the country’s prewar population—have been displaced. The country has descended into an ever more complex civil war: jihadis promoting a Sunni theocracy have eclipsed opposition forces fighting for a democratic and pluralistic Syria, and regional powers have backed various local forces to advance their geopolitical interests on Syrian battlefields. The United States is at the forefront of a coalition conducting air strikes on the self-proclaimed Islamic State, though it abruptly pulled back some of its forces in 2019 ahead of an invasion of northern Syria by Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ally. The Turks have pushed Kurdish forces, the United States’ main local partner in the fight against the Islamic State, from border areas. Russia, too, has carried out air strikes in Syria, coming to the Assad regime’s defense, while Iranian forces and their Hezbollah allies have done the same on the ground. 

The Stimson Center adds:  

“The security impact of the ongoing conflict in Syria has transformed from the movement of non-state-actors across borders to established networks for smuggling drugs to Jordan en transit to the Gulf. And the US-Iran confrontation is played out in both countries, making the US presence in Syria and Iraq increasingly interconnected.” [ Regional Consequences of the Syrian Conflict on Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq]

So, intuitively, the prospect of the US solely using diplomacy to resolve this “peacefully” is rather absurd. The US is going to peacefully negotiate with ISIS? The US is going to simply insist the Assad government simply stop killing protestors? The US is going to ask the protestors to be nicer? The US is going to ask regional powers to knock it off? Since the US currently has a military presence in Syria of at least 900 troops in Syria, will only using diplomacy undermine the credibility of the military troops?

Hezbollah’s role in supporting the Assad (Syria) regime Brookings Institute Nov 2022

Syria resisting Russia’s efforts to broker Turkey summit Oct 2022

Turkey (And Turkey-Syria)

Turkey is a large country located in both Europe and Asia. It has a long and complex history, and has faced a number of internal conflicts and political challenges. In the past, Turkey has been ruled by military regimes, and the government has been criticized for repressing political opposition and limiting the freedoms of its citizens.

In recent years, Turkey has made some progress towards democratic reforms, and has held regular elections. However, the country has also faced a resurgence of political violence, and there have been instances of repression against opposition groups and the media.  The President, who has run the country for 18 years, will soon be facing re-election.

The largest internal conflict Turkey faces is between the Kurds and the government. Wikipedia explains:

The main rebel group is the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)[90] (Kurdish: Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê). Although the Kurdish-Turkish conflict has spread to many regions,[91] most of the conflict has taken place in Northern Kurdistan, which corresponds with southeastern Turkey.[92] The PKK’s presence in Iraqi Kurdistan has resulted in the Turkish Armed Forces carrying out frequent ground incursions and air and artillery strikes in the region,[93][94][95] and its influence in Syrian Kurdistan has led to similar activity there. The conflict has cost the economy of Turkey an estimated $300 to 450 billion, mostly in military costs. It has also affected tourism in Turkey.[96][97][98]

A revolutionary group, the PKK was founded in 1978 in the village of Fis, Lice by a group of Kurdish students led by Abdullah Öcalan.[99] The initial reason given by the PKK for this was the oppression of Kurds in Turkey.[100][101] At the time, the use of Kurdish language, dress, folklore, and names were banned in Kurdish-inhabited areas.[102] In an attempt to deny their existence, the Turkish government categorized Kurds as “Mountain Turks” during the 1930s and 1940s.[102][103][104] The words “Kurds”, “Kurdistan”, or “Kurdish” were officially banned by the Turkish government.[105] Following the military coup of 1980, the Kurdish language was officially prohibited in public and private life until 1991.[106] Many who spoke, published, or sang in Kurdish were arrested and imprisoned.[107]

The PKK was formed in an effort to establish linguistic, cultural, and political rights for Turkey’s Kurdish minority.[108] However, the full-scale insurgency did not begin until 15 August 1984, when the PKK announced a Kurdish uprising. [Wikipedia]

The conflict between Turkey’s government, the PKK and other Kurdish groups continues today, with Turkey threatening military intervention in Iraq in the past (where there is a significant Kurdish community) and in Syria, where there is also a significant Kurdish community, today.   The Associated Press explained on December 11:

After weeks of deadly Turkish airstrikes in northern Syria, Kurdish forces and international players are trying to gauge whether Ankara’s threats of a ground invasion are serious.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly warned of a new land incursion to drive Kurdish groups away from the Turkish-Syrian border, following a deadly Nov. 13 bombing in Istanbul. Turkish authorities blamed the attack on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and on the Syria-based People’s Protection Units, or YPG. Both have denied involvement.

On Nov. 20, Ankara launched a barrage of airstrikes, killing dozens, including civilians as well as Kurdish fighters and Syrian government troops. Human Rights Watch has warned that the strikes are exacerbating a humanitarian crisis by disrupting power, fuel and aid. [AP]

There is growing concern that Turkey will launch a ground operation agains the PKK and associated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Syria. These forces help the US in the fight against ISIS and there is fear that if Turkey goes after these forces they will not only stop cooperating in the war against ISIS but release many ISIS prisoners they have (thousands) from jails.

A strong case can be made to put a little pressure on Turkey to stop any potential incursion into Syria.

Turkey, as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO] is a significant US ally. As a result of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, two countries, Sweden and Finland, are seeking to join NATO and the US and all of the other NATO countries support their membership. Under NATO decision-making criteria, however, all countries must approve a country’s membership. As a NATO member, Turkey is conditioning its support for membership on wether or not NATO member countries support its efforts to crack-down on the Kurds.

The Kurds are worried that West will stand aside this time to appease Ankara in exchange for approval of Sweden and Finland joining NATO.

“This silence toward Turkey’s brutality will encourage Turkey to carry out a ground operation,” said Badran Jia Kurd, deputy co-chair of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria. [AP]

If the US were to put more diplomatic pressure on Turkey to resolve conflicts with the Kurds directly and with neighboring countries on the issue, then Turkey may not agree to let Finland and Sweden join NATO. Con teams could argue that such membership is important to deter Russian aggression.

Similarly, putting more pressure on Turkey may discourage them from using its influence to reduce further aggression against Turkey or to seek a diplomatic solution.



Greece Vs Turkey: The Military Balance in the Aegean Nov 2022

How the U.S. Can Compromise With Turkey on Syria

Main Players

Turkey’s President: Recep Tayyip Erdogan


Like many countries in the Middle East, Lebanon tried to balance many competing religious groups.  As the Center for Preventive Action explained:

“After gaining independence in 1943, Lebanon’s new political leaders created a system of governance that would allow for the proportional representation of the country’s three major religious groups: Maronite Christians (represented by the president), Shiite Muslims (represented by the speaker of parliament), and Sunni Muslims (represented by the prime minister). However, unresolved sectarian differences eventually devolved into a civil war that lasted from 1975 to 1990, in which both Israeli and Syrian forces intervened Syrian forces withdrew from Lebanon in 2005…  but a war between Israel and Hezbollah quickly followed in 2006. [Source: Instability in Lebanon }

As with Syria, the problem has escalated:

In the last decade, sectarian tensions between Hezbollah and Sunni groups have increased—as has political gridlock. In addition to a two and a half year leadership gap from 2014 to 2016, Lebanon did not hold parliamentary elections for nine years. Furthermore, Lebanese politics have become a proxy battleground for Iran, which provides support for Hezbollah; and Saudi Arabia, which supports Prime Minister Saad Hariri and other Sunni politicians. In November 2017, during his visit to the kingdom, Saudi Arabia seemingly held Hariri under house arrest and forced him to resign from office amid Saudi concerns that Hariri was not doing enough to counter Hezbollah’s influence. Hariri eventually returned to Lebanon—and to office—but tensions between political parties persist. 

Again, how is the US going to peacefully negotiate a resolution to an internal conflict that is backed by external powers? Does anyone in the world think the Sunnis and the Shiites care about what the US (a western, Christian power) thinks about how they should resolve their differences? This is completely ludicrous.

Lebanon has also been at the center of proxy wars between Israel and Iran. And the Syrian civil war (see above), has led to millions of refugees pouring into Lebanon, which has aggravated tensions in the the country. 

Despite these limitations, there are fanciful calls for more diplomacy:

Adam Gallagher is the managing editor for Public Affairs and Communications at the U.S. Institute of Peace, June 23, 2022, , Amid Historic Crisis, Has a New Hope Emerged in Lebanon?,

Moving forward, U.S. diplomacy will also be key. “In the next six months, Lebanon needs intensive diplomacy with U.S. engagement or leadership to make sure that we reach the end of the year … with an effective government that can respond to the needs of the people,” Salem said. Part of this diplomacy should be to push for the formation of a government that can put sectarian partisanship aside and start to address Lebanon’s massive challenges. Washington should “put a lot of pressure on the political powers in Lebanon to form a technocratic government as soon as possible,” Yacoubian said. “The magnitude and severity of the challenge is so significant that we can’t wait for the typical Lebanese horse trading … to play out.”

UN Security Forecast Oct 2022

Lebanon  Mid-Year Update: At risk of heightened social unrest amid an economic and political crisis 2022

Lebanon: At ‘a crossroad between rebound or collapse 

Hezbollah’s changing status in Lebanon Brookings Institute Nov 2022


Jordan is a constitutional monarchy located in the Middle East. The country’s current King, Abdullah II, is a member of the Hashemite dynasty, which has ruled Jordan since 1921. Jordan has a parliamentary system of government, with a Prime Minister as the head of government and the King holding ceremonial powers.

Jordan has a long history of hosting refugees from neighboring countries, particularly from Palestine, Iraq, and Syria. The influx of refugees has put a strain on Jordan’s resources and has led to some political tensions within the country. Jordan has also been involved in regional conflicts, including the Arab-Israeli conflict and the ongoing war in Syria.

Jordan has been generally stable compared to many other countries in the Middle East, but like all democracies, it faces challenges and political disagreements. The country has made some progress towards democratic reforms, but there is still room for improvement.


Prior to its independence in 1951, the territory comprising present-day Libya (Tripoli) had been a semi-independent province of the Ottoman Empire from 1711 to 1835, an Italian colony from 1912 until 1947, and was under British and French occupation from 1943 to 1951.

Muammar Ghaddafi became the leader of Libya through a bloodless clue in which the King fled the country. The Revolutionary Command Council headed by Ghaddafi abolished the old constitution and established the Republic of Libya.

Libya became what is known as a “failed state” after the fall of Ghaddafi.  The fall of Ghafddafi was helped along by a NATO bombing campaign that forced him from power..  

Several attempts by subsequent Libyan governments failed to control the country’s militia – where the real power resides.

Violence escalated in 2014, and after disputed elections that year the country became split between two administrations.  The Islamic State briefly gained a foothold but was defeated.

Two governments are currently vying for control of Libya. 

The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, is recognized by the United Nations and backed by a host of militias. 

The rival administration in the country’s east is allied with warlord General Khalifa Haftar, who commands the so-called Libyan National Army (LNA).

U.N. efforts to broker a lasting peace have not yet succeeded, overshadowed by competing peace conferences sponsored by various foreign governments. 

Meanwhile, Libya’s borders remain porous, particularly in the southern Fezzan, facilitating an increase in trafficking and smuggling of illicit materials, including weapons.”

Elections were scheduled for July of 2022, but that did not happen.

Zaid Al-Ali,  Senior Programme Officer, Constitution-Building in Africa and West Asia, Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance,  summarized the state of Libya from 2011 till today this December:

“Since 2011, Libya’s move towards peace has been impeded by a range of factors, including a failure to establish a coherent post-war security framework. The country’s political divisions mean it has two rival parliaments – the High Council of State in the west and the House of Representatives in the east – that are antagonistic to each other. Foreign powers including Egypt, Russia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and others have complicated the situation by providing equipment, intelligence and advisers to the rival groups on the ground.”

External actors have exacerbated Libya’s problems by funneling money and weapons to proxies that have put personal interests above those of the Libyan people. 

The Stimson Center reports:  “The presence of foreign mercenaries continues to destabilize Libya. In recent months, armed confrontations between Haftar’s Libyan National Army, Chadian armed opposition groups, and Sudanese mercenaries in eastern Libya have threatened to escalate.  Foreign mercenaries—allegedly acting on behalf of Russia, Turkey, and several Arab and neighboring states—are also present and benefit from breaches in the arms embargo” 

How will US diplomacy help in this situation? Will the US broker a deal between the two competing governments? Do those governments care for US involvement? Will the public accept a US-brokered deal? Will other foreign powers involved in the conflict accept the deal? How can the US address the long-standing social conflicts?

“At the subnational level, many local conflicts reflect long-standing feuds between various factions, tribes, and ethnic groups. Though Libya’s national conflict has stalled in recent months, prospects for a political solution are complicated by the country’s deep political and tribal divides.” [Libya: ‘Political deadlock persists with no clear end in sight’- UN envoy ]

Major Players:

The Government of National Accord (GNA) Backed by the UN and multiple local militias
Libyan National Army (LNA) based in eastern Libya

The United Arab Emirates
The United Nations
Foreign mercenaries from Chad and the Sudan

United States

US pushes for elections and stability in Libya Nov 22

Libya’s democracy needs meaningful international support Dec 2022

Talks between factions provided hope, then frustration. It’s time for international powers to assist rather than interfere, says Zaid Al-Ali.


October 2022 Monthly Forecast UN Security Council Report for Libya Oct 2022

The United Nations actions to resolve the conflict in Libya  July 2022

Two prime ministers further destabilize Libya August 2022

The Situation in Libya: Reflections on Challenges and Ways Forward (June 2022)

The situation in Libya – Security Council, 9162nd meeting Oct 2022

Libya: Political stalemate and lack of progress on elections Aug 30 2022


Youth and the Future of Libya Nov 2022

Greece’s top diplomat calls off Tripoli visit on touchdown Nov 2022

The showdown between Libya’s rival prime ministers could continue indefinitely unless Turkey plays a more assertive mediation role Oct 2022

Greece’s top diplomat calls off Tripoli visit on touchdown Nov 2022

Turkey and Libya sign maritime hydrocarbons deal March 2022

Libya-Turkey exploration deal to fuel long-standing political, regional rivalries Oct 2022

Libya-Turkey Energy Deal Escalates Mediterranean Tensions Nov 2022


Yemen, a small country on the Arabian Peninsula, has become the site of grievous civilian suffering amid an intractable civil war. Many analysts say the fighting, now seven years old, has turned into a proxy war: Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who overthrew the Yemeni government 2014, are pitted against a multinational coalition led by Saudi Arabia.  By 2018, the coalition had expanded to include forces from Eritrea and Pakistan. They launched an air campaign against the Houthis with the aim of reinstating Hadi’s government. For Riyadh, accepting Houthi control of Yemen would mean allowing a hostile neighbor to reside on its southern border, and it would mark a setback in its long-standing contest with Tehran.

The conflict has displaced more than four million people and given rise to cholera outbreaks, medicine shortages, and threats of famine. The warring parties observed a months-long cease-fire in 2022, raising hopes for a political solution to the conflict, but that October, they failed to extend the truce.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the conflict has displaced more than four million people and given rise to cholera outbreaks, medicine shortages, and threats of famine. The warring parties observed a monthslong cease-fire in 2022, raising hopes for a political solution to the conflict, but that October, they failed to extend the truce.

The United Nations reported that: “In providing an overview of the situation after the 2 October truce expiration, Hans Grundberg said that in recent weeks, Houthi forces, known as Ansar Allah, attacked oil terminals and ports in Hadramawt and Shabwa governorates, depriving the Government of its main source of revenue from exporting oil.”

“These attacks…have significant economic repercussions”, he said. “Attacks on oil infrastructure and threats to oil companies undermine the welfare of the entirety of the Yemeni people…risk setting off a spiral of military and economic escalation…[and] are prohibited by international humanitarian law”.

The Center for the Responsibility to Protect quantifies the impact of lives lost:

Since the beginning of the armed conflict, an estimated 233,000 people have lost their lives, including 102,000 as a direct result of hostilities and 131,000 from indirect causes, such as conflict-related famine, widespread disease and destruction of health services. [Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect]

Pomper & Hannah provide an overview of the conflict and the potential for an expansion of US diplomacy:

Pomper & Hannah, 12-2, 22, STEPHEN POMPER is Chief of Policy at the International Crisis Group. During the Obama administration, he served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights at the National Security Council; MICHAEL WAHID HANNA is U.S. Program Director at the International Crisis Group and a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Reiss Center on Law and Security at NYU School of Law, Foreign Affairs, How to End Yemen’s Forever War Can Help Broker a Lasting Peace,

In April 2022, the opposing sides in Yemen’s devastating civil war achieved a rare breakthrough. After eight brutal years of conflict, they signed on to a UN-brokered truce that significantly curtailed the fighting that had driven an already impoverished country into a massive humanitarian crisis. Although it was unclear whether the two-month truce would even last that long, some observers allowed themselves to hope that it could be a first step toward a broader peace process. In the best-case scenario, they believed, it might even lead to a political settlement for a conflict that has pitted Houthi rebels, who control large parts of the country and are backed by Iran, against the internationally recognized Yemeni government and an allied Saudi-led coalition that, for much of the war, received logistics, intelligence support, and weaponry from Washington. But the twice-extended truce agreement lapsed on October 2, and the Houthis have resumed their intermittent attacks on Yemen’s oil-exporting infrastructure. It is now unclear whether Yemen’s fragile respite from full-blown conflict will hold.

For U.S. President Joe Biden, the war in Yemen is both a tragic legacy and an uncomfortable loose end. When Biden came into office, he made no secret of his desire to swiftly disentangle the United States militarily from the conflict, then approaching its seventh year, but he also committed his administration to work toward the war’s resolution. This strategy was in part born of regret. Many of his foreign policy hands, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, were serving under President Barack Obama when, in March 2015, his administration agreed to support Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in their war against the Houthi insurgency. Already in 2018, many of those same U.S. officials—including one of us—issued a public statement acknowledging the war’s terrible costs for the Yemeni people and noting that the United States had never intended to hand the Saudi-led coalition a “blank check.” In March 2021, two former Obama officials—again one of us, along with Robert Malley (who is now serving in the Biden administration as the U.S. special envoy to Iran)—wrote an article for Foreign Affairs anticipating the road map for ending the war that the administration would try to follow.

But it is easier to help start a war than to help end one. Although the administration moved quickly to withdraw its backing for the Saudi war effort and support a brokered peace, the truce’s lapse shows the far-reaching challenges that would-be peacemakers face in Yemen. Whether the current impasse will lead to a dramatic new escalation by either side is unclear, but if it does, there is no obvious path to peace, and there is little Washington can do to create one. For whatever positive impact the Biden administration’s efforts have had—and they have had one—the United States has neared the end of what its waning influence over the Saudis and Emiratis can achieve, and it does not have the leverage needed to bring the Houthis to the table.

Still, there are compelling moral and practical reasons for Washington to stay the course. The United States may by itself lack the means to bring this horrible multifaceted war to an end, but its diplomatic engagement still matters. U.S. diplomacy opens doors in the Gulf for mediators who might otherwise not have access to the region’s governments, and it greases the wheels of deal-making. If and when the time comes, Washington can also promote a format for settlement discussions that includes not just the principal antagonists but also Yemen’s smaller factions, which have their own interests and disputes and will have much to say about whether a peaceful future is in store for this war-ravaged state.

Although the evidence suggesting that more US diplomacy is need is good, It’s unclear what role more US diplomacy could play in the conflict. The US could try to put more pressure on the Houthi rebels, but the these rebels are backed by Iran, a country the US has heavily sanctioned and currently has terrible relations with.

The US could put more pressure on Saudi Arabia, but the US has already eliminated the sale of “offensive” weapons to Saudi Arabia and failed to get Saudi Arabia to increase oil production in order to lower oil prices. Saudi Arabia has also been working to continue to strengthen its relationship with China in order to develop its economy and blunt the impact of US pressure. Too much pressure on Saudi Arabia could result in them building strong relations with China and/or reducing defense cooperation with the US that is needed to contain Iran.

There is also good evidence that a truce will just give the Houthi rebels more time to rearm.

Major Players

Allies include:  The Quad: The United States, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (Saudi Arabia and the UAE represent Sunni interests)

The allies support the Internationally Recognized Government (IRG) of Yemen, the UAE-backed forces, including the Southern Transitional Council (STC)

Allies Include: Iran, which represents Shiite interests, which forms a large minority in northwestern Yemen. 

Iran supports the Houthi rebels (Ansar Allah)


Yemen’s Tragedy: War, Stalemate, and Suffering Council on Foreign Relations Backgrounder Oct 2022 

Yemen: Humanitarian and economic issues must be addressed, Security UN Report Nov 2022 

Security Council Report  October 2022 Monthly Forecast for Yemen  October 2022

Freedom in the World 2022

US Navy says trawler carrying arms haul was bound for Yemen Dec 2022

Yemen’s internal divisions and a Saudi-led military intervention have spawned an intractable political, military, and humanitarian crisis. Oct 2022



Iraq has been beset by conflicts for centuries and most recently experienced multiple US invasions and the aftermath.

The most recent relevant history starts in 1963 when the Ba’ath party took power.  In 1979, Saddam Hussain become both the President and the Chairman of the Revolutionary Guard Council. He then purged his opponents in the Baath party.

Iraq had territorial disputes with Iran, Syria, Turkey and Kuwait dating back to the division of the Ottoman Empire.

In 1980, Iraq invaded Iran. Iraq declared victory in 1988 but only succeeded in reestablishing existing borders. Ini 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait but was forced out by a multinational coalition lead by the US.

Shortly after the war, insurgencies led by Shiites in the south of Iraq and Kurds in the North broke out, but Saddam ruthlessly suppressed them, resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands and the displacement of millions.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait, extensive sanctions were placed on Iraq. After the invasion ended, Western powers conditioned the removal of the sanctions on Iraq abandoning its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs. Throughout the 1990s, the UN tried with limited effectiveness to inspect Iraq weapons programs and political support in the US to remove Saddam from power grew.

In March of 2003, the US and the UK, with military aid from other nations, invaded Iraq and toppled the government. After the US toppled the government, a widespread civil war developed, putting Sunnis whose interests fell from power after the US invasion against the Shiites. The Kurds also sought to establish power and were again repressed by government forces. Terrorist organizations, including Al Qaeda, a sunni Jihadist group, entered the power vacuum and others, including ISIS, were formed. Shiite militias engaged in massive reprisals, including with the use of death squads.

The US surged troops in 2007-8 in order to quell the violence, which did prove effective. The US ended the surge in 2011, however, and violence escalated.

Though protests and violence continue, the level of violence has generally subsided. 

Early elections were held in Iraq in 2021 but failed to produce a government.

The US Institute of Peace explains;

The election resulted in two broad coalitions that led to a state of gridlock over the forming of a government amid controversial litigation in the Federal Supreme Court, drone attacks on Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s house, armed attacks on the offices and residence of various political actors, violence in Baghdad’s “Green Zone” and external pressure, particularly from Iran. Al-Sadr, whose bloc won the largest number of seats (73), sought to form a majoritarian government with Sunni Arabs, led by parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi and Khamis al-Khanjar, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, led by Massoud Barzani. The Coordination Framework — considered to be Iran-backed — which includes the State of Law alliance of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the Fatah Coalition and others, succeeded in blocking al-Sadr.

Over a year later on October 13, Iraq’s parliament voted Abdul Latif Rashid as the new president, who in turn designated Coordination Framework nominee Mohammed Shia al-Sudani as prime minister. Nine rockets hit the vicinity of the parliament and other parts of Baghdad as the voting occurred, but it did not stop the process. With 30 days to form a government and win a vote of confidence from the parliament, al-Sudani is negotiating with other political parties to form his government and projects confidence in his actions and messages. He has also welcomed the Sadrists’ participation in the government, but that’s unlikely to happen.

This breakthrough was made possible because al-Sadr gave up all his bloc’s parliamentary seats and his attempt of applying public pressure through the street — occupying the parliament building and judiciary headquarters — backfired. The Coordination Framework replaced al-Sadr’s MPs with their own, nominated al-Sudani to become prime minister, and reached agreement with Kurdish and Sunni Arab allies of al-Sadr — whom al-Sadr has freed from commitments they made to him — to support their candidate…As expected, the government formation was a lengthy and rocky process, breaking Iraq’s own protracted record. Recent developments show that key Shia, Sunni and Kurdish parties will share important ministries and positions of the government, which contravenes what the 2019 protest movement sought to end or at least minimize. Like previous elections, a coalition of different parties will form the government, not a single party that won the highest number of seats.. A Year After Elections, Iraq May Finally Be Set to Form a Government

The situation in Iraq is obviously complex and complicated by its recent history, territorial disputes, and conflicts between the Sunnis, Shiites and the Kurds. Over the years, the US has made significant efforts to resolve these disputes. What will make it effective now? There terrorist group ISIS has had a long history in Iraq. Can US diplomacy really help keep the terrorists at bay?

Israel and Palestine – The Palestinian Conflict


Israel is the world’s only Jewish state, located just east of the Mediterranean Sea. Palestinians, the Arab population that hails from the land Israel now controls, refer to the territory as Palestine, and want to establish a state by that name on all or part of the same land. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is over who gets what land and how it’s controlled

To understand the modern day developments in more detail, it is important to understand the founding of Israel as a country.

Israel has only been an independent state since 1948; what led up to the establishment of the state of Israel? [The Zionism Movement]

In the late 19th and early 20th century, an organized religious and political movement known as Zionism emerged among Jews.

Zionists wanted to reestablish a Jewish homeland in Palestine.  Many Jews immigrated to the ancient holy land and built settlements. Between 1882 and 1903, about 35,000 Jews relocated to Palestine. Another 40,000 settled in the area between 1904 and 1914.

During World War II, many Jews living in Europe and elsewhere, fearing persecution during the Nazi reign, found refuge in Palestine and embraced Zionism.  After the Holocaust and World War II ended, members of the Zionist movement primarily focused on creating an independent Jewish state.

Arabs in Palestine resisted the Zionism movement, and tensions between the two groups continue. An Arab nationalist movement developed as a result. 

As the Zionest movement grew the United States and Britain did not initially favor an independent state.   President Franklin D. Roosevelt  had assured the Arabs in 1945 that the United States would not intervene without consulting both the Jews and the Arabs in that region. The British, who held a colonial mandate for Palestine until May 1948, opposed both the creation of a Jewish state and an Arab state in Palestine as well as unlimited immigration of Jewish refugees to the region. Great Britain wanted to preserve good relations with the Arabs to protect its vital political and economic interests in Palestine. [Israeli Independence]

Soon after President Truman took office, he appointed several experts to study the Palestinian issue. In May 1946, Truman announced his approval of a recommendation to admit 100,000 displaced persons into Palestine and in October publicly declared his support for the creation of a Jewish state. 

Throughout 1947, the United Nations Special Commission on Palestine examined the Palestinian question and recommended the partition of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state. On November 29, 1947 the United Nations adopted Resolution 181 (also known as the Partition Resolution) that would divide Great Britain’s former Palestinian mandate into Jewish and Arab states in May 1948 when the British mandate was scheduled to end. 

Under the resolution, the area of religious significance surrounding Jerusalem would remain a corpus separatum under international control administered by the United Nations.

The United Nations approved a plan to partition Palestine into a Jewish and Arab state in 1947, but the Arabs rejected it.

In May 1948, Israel was officially declared an independent state with David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency, as the prime minister.

While this historic event seemed to be a victory for Jews, it also marked the beginning of more violence with the Arabs.

Israel’s has always been bitterly opposed by neighboring Arab states, setting off a series of wars that left the Palestinians displaced and established a cycle of conflict that has never been resolved.  [Arab Israeli Wars From United States Military Academy – Westpoint]

This has resulted in a long string of conflicts, war and terrorism. The 1967 war is particularly important for today’s conflict, as it left Israel in control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, two territories home to large Palestinian populations:

Today, the West Bank is nominally controlled by the Palestinian Authority and is under Israeli occupation. This comes in the form of Israeli troops, who enforce Israeli security restrictions on Palestinian movement and activities, and Israeli “settlers,” Jews who build ever-expanding communities in the West Bank that effectively deny the land to Palestinians. Gaza is controlled by Hamas, an Islamist fundamentalist party, and is under Israeli blockade but not ground troop occupation.

The Two State Solution

The primary approach to solving the conflict today is a so-called “two-state solution” that would establish Palestine as an independent state in Gaza and most of the West Bank, leaving the rest of the land to Israel. Though the two-state plan is clear in theory, the two sides are still deeply divided over how to make it work in practice.

Today, the West Bank is nominally controlled by the Palestinian Authority and is under Israeli occupation. This comes in the form of Israeli troops, who enforce Israeli security restrictions on Palestinian movement and activities, and Israeli “settlers,” Jews who build ever-expanding communities in the West Bank that effectively deny the land to Palestinians. Gaza is controlled by Hamas, an Islamist fundamentalist party, and is under Israeli blockade but not ground troop occupation.

The alternative to a two-state solution is a “one-state solution,” wherein all of the land becomes either one big Israel or one big Palestine. Most observers think this would cause more problems than it would solve, but this outcome is becoming more likely over time for political and demographic reasons.

Although any resolution is obviously difficult, there is evidence to support continued US diplomatic involvement.

This continued support is necessary for two reasons.

First, there has been a recent increase in the threat of violence.

Second, the election of more hardline elements in Israel increases the risk of Israeli violence against Palestine. Dana Al Kurd explains:

The recent Israeli elections, which brought the far-right Religious Zionist Party further into the mainstream, have sparked concern among policymakers across the Arab world. The Religious Zionist Party includes elements of far-right, religious extremist, and ultra-nationalist political ideologies; David Rosenberg, an editor of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, recently wrote that it is primarily characterized by a belief in Jewish supremacy and anti-Arab racism. 

Israeli President Isaac Herzog acknowledged “the whole world is worried” about the new coalition, led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that includes the likes of Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich – both of whom have been arrested (and Ben Gvir charged) on account of inciting violence, and have actively encouraged support of perpetrators of terrorism. Ben Gvir has long agitated against any peace with Palestinians; he was even a key organizer of “Death to Rabin” rallies prior to the eventual assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in response to his signing of the Oslo Accords. And both Ben Gvir and Smotrich have been active participants in the repression of Palestinians, such as during crackdowns in Sheikh Jarrah. Under immediate threat, Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line are bracing themselves for increasing violence and repression as politicians known for inciting hatred and terrorism join the Knesset.  


In regards to Palestine, Wikipedia adds:

Palestine (Arabic: فلسطين, romanized: Filasṭīn), officially the State of Palestine[a] (دولة فلسطين, Dawlat Filasṭīn), is a state located in Western Asia. Officially governed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), it claims the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip as its territory, though the entirety of that territory has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 Six-Day War.[5][22] As a result of the Oslo Accords of 1993–1995, the West Bank is currently divided into 165 Palestinian enclaves that are under partial Palestinian National Authority (PNA) rule; the remainder, including 200 Israeli settlements, is under full Israeli control. The Gaza Strip has been ruled by the militant Islamic group Hamas and has been subject to a long-term blockade by Egypt and Israel since 2007.[c]

The US has been actively involved in negotiating a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict for decades. What more can it do now? Is it practical for the US to put more pressure on Israel? Will it succeed?

​​President Mahmoud Abbas


Israeli-Palestinian conflict nearing ‘boiling point’, UN envoy warns

Israel kills three Palestinians in Jenin, general strike called


Israel: Background and U.S. Relations in Brief

US Involvement

Blinken Vows US Support for Israel Despite Unease Over Government

US concessions to Palestine always work in Israel’s favour

Israel and the Arab States

As just discussed, the conflict between Israel & Palestine drives what at least was the conflict between Israel & the Arab states, which historically have taken the side of Palestine.

There are two reasons this conflict has moderated

First, Israel and the Gulf states have a common enemy that is becoming a growing threat: Iran.

Second,  diplomatic fatigue that has set in from more than seventy years of fighting Israel in support of the Palestinians, with resolution of the conflict looking more distant than ever.

Until 2019, Israel only had relations with two Arab countries: Egypt and Jordan

But in 2020 the Trump administration announced the signing of the  Abraham Accords were inked in September 2020 to normalize ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, countries dominated by the Sunnis. 

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said …I have been promoting a political initiative to sign a non-aggression treaty with the Arab Gulf states. A historic step will put an end to the conflict and will promote civilian cooperation until peace agreements are signed”, Katz wrote. 

The idea of the initiative is to “use a common interest in Iran to normalise relations in the fight against terror and in the economic sphere”……Israel’s relations with the Gulf are a function of the Gulf Arabs’ fear of Iran, but also as due to the Arabs’ belief in Israeli influence in Washington. The Gulf Arabs believe in Israel’s role because of their perception of Israel’s close relationship with the U.S. but also due to their sense that they can count on Israel against Iran. They believe Israel can work magic. 

The US led the development of the accords and there is arguably more the US could do to bring the implementation of the accords to fruition.

Additional work certainly needs to be done. First, it is important for more Arab Gulf states to develop relations with Israel. Second, there is still substantial support for the Palestinian cause in Gulf state countries, which has created a backlash against the accords.

The End of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and the Rise of the Arab-Israeli Coalition

The Imperative of Middle East Regional Order and U.S. Diplomacy

U.S., Israel and Arab states to expand cooperation in unprecedented meeting


In 1878 the island of Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, came under British control. Its population is made up of both Greek and Turkish Cypriots. The Greek Cypriot majority desired the removal of British rule and union with Greece, known as Enosis.They aimed to achieve Enosis by attacking government and military installations and personnel and by mobilizing the civilian population to demonstrate against the British presence.

In August 1960 Cyprus became a republic but, in the following decades, it was plagued with violence between the Greek and Turkish communities. In 1974 a Greek military coup, which aimed to unite the island with mainland Greece, led to a Turkish invasion and the division of the island between Turkish Northern Cyprus and the Greek Cypriot Republic of Cyprus. Cyprus remains divided to this day.

The Greece-Cyprus conflict is a longstanding dispute between the two countries over the island of Cyprus, which is located in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded the northern part of the island in response to a coup attempt by supporters of union with Greece. This invasion led to the establishment of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which is only recognized by Turkey. The rest of the world recognizes the Republic of Cyprus as the legitimate government of the island.

Since then, attempts have been made to resolve the conflict and reunify Cyprus, but these efforts have so far been unsuccessful. The situation remains tense, with both sides continuing to lay claim to the entire island and occasional outbreaks of violence. The conflict has also had regional implications, with Greece and Turkey often at odds over a number of issues related to the island.

Recently (early December 2022), Turkish Cypriot authorities have threatened to evict UN peacekeepers from northern Cyprus. 

Major Players: Turkey, Greece

Greek Cypriots ‘remain faithful to reunification Nov 28 2022

Cyprus marks second wave of Turkish invasion (Updated) August 2022

Turkey pledges to boost military presence in Cyprus Sept 2022

New crisis brewing on Cyprus after US lifts arms embargo Oct 2022


Bahrain is a small island country in the Middle East, located off the coast of Saudi Arabia. It is ruled by a Sunni monarchy, but the population is mostly Shia Muslim. There have been instances of dissent and protests by the Shia population against the ruling monarchy. The parliament in Bahrain is elected, but it has been criticized for not having enough power to effectively challenge the decisions of the monarchy.

The government has been able to effectively suppress all internal conflict.

“Bahrain’s Sunni-led monarchy dominates state institutions, and elections for the lower house of the parliament are neither competitive nor inclusive. Since violently crushing a popular pro-democracy protest movement in 2011, the authorities have systematically eliminated a broad range of political rights and civil liberties, dismantled the political opposition, and cracked down on persistent dissent concentrated among the Shiite population.” FREEDOM IN THE WORLD 2022:  Bahrain

Bahrain does not any significant conflicts with other countries in the region.


Georgia is a country in the Caucasus region of Europe. After the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Georgia declared its independence. However, two of its regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, sought independence from Georgia and declared themselves independent states. This led to conflicts between the Georgian government and the separatists in these regions. The conflicts have not been fully resolved, and the status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia remains a point of tension between Georgia and Russia, which has supported the separatists.

Conflict in Georgia: Secretary General’s Consolidated Report says human rights challenges persist in conflict-affected areas Nov 2022

Consolidated report on the conflict in Georgia  (April – October 2022) Long and detailed areas of impact in Georgia

Georgia  Events of 2021


Kuwait is a small country located in the Middle East. It is a constitutional monarchy, with a ruling Emir as the head of state. Kuwait has a history of political dissent and opposition to the ruling monarchy. In the past, there have been instances of violence and conflict between the government and opposition groups. However, Kuwait has generally been stable and peaceful in recent years, and the government has made some efforts to address the concerns of the opposition and promote political dialogue.

In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, a small country located in the Middle East. The invasion was a blatant violation of international law and was met with widespread condemnation. The United Nations passed a resolution demanding that Iraq withdraw its forces from Kuwait, and many countries, including the United States, deployed military forces to the region to deter further aggression. In 1991, a coalition of international forces, led by the United States, launched a military campaign to drive Iraqi forces out of Kuwait. The operation was successful, and Kuwait was liberated from Iraqi control.


Oman is a country located in the Middle East. It has a long history, dating back to ancient times. In the past, Oman has faced internal conflicts and political instability, but in recent decades it has been generally peaceful and stable.

The United States has had diplomatic relations with Oman since the early 19th century. The two countries have worked together on a range of issues, including counter-terrorism, trade, and regional security. The United States has also provided military and economic assistance to Oman. Overall, the relationship between the two countries has been positive and mutually beneficial.


Qatar is a small country located in the Middle East. It is a constitutional monarchy, with a ruling Emir as the head of state. Qatar has a history of internal political conflicts and tensions between the ruling monarchy and opposition groups. In the past, the government has been accused of repressing political dissent and limiting the freedoms of its citizens.

In recent years, however, Qatar has made some progress towards democratic reforms, including allowing for the direct election of some members of parliament. The United States has a strong relationship with Qatar, and the two countries have cooperated on a range of issues, including counter-terrorism and regional security.

Saudi Arabia 

Saudi Arabia is a large country located in the Middle East. It is a monarchy, with a ruling King as the head of state. Saudi Arabia is a predominantly Sunni Muslim country, and the ruling family follows the strict Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam. There is a significant Shia minority in Saudi Arabia, and there have been instances of tension and conflict between the Sunni majority and Shia minority.

Saudi Arabia is not a democracy, and the government has been criticized for its lack of political freedoms and human rights abuses. However, in recent years, the country has made some limited reforms, including allowing for the direct election of some municipal councils.

During the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011, Saudi Arabia faced some domestic protests and calls for political reform. The government responded with a mix of repression and limited concessions.

The United States has a long and complicated history with Saudi Arabia. Since the early 1900s, US companies have been working to develop Saudi Arabia’s oil fields. As the percentage of oil the US imported from the Saudi Arabia and the Middle East generally increased, so too did the need to protect Saudi Arabia’s security. And will all of the money the Saudis had from oil sales, they could afford to purchase more and more weapons that the US had to sell them. 

This has resulted in an interlocking cycle of dependence. Currently we provide 70% of Saudi Arabia’s weapons and Technical Support in exchange for a reliable supply of fossil fuels and price stability. These sales benefit the US economy and support US efforts to stabilize the region while limiting the influence of China and Russia.

Although the relationship has benefitted both countries, it does not come without complications. Saudi Arabia is a monarchy that has reputation for human rights abuses and the U.S is a monarchy. The 9-11 terrorists were Saudi citizens. Saudi Arabia was likely behind the assassination of Jamal Khassogi, who worked for the Washington Post. Saudi Arabia uses many of the weapons in its war in Yemen. 

Recently, the Biden administration pressured Saudi Arabia to increase oil production in order to help reduce gas prices and reduce revenue the total revenue going to Russia’s coffers (higher oil production lowers prices). Saudi Arabia’s refusal to increase production has increased opposition in Congress to the relationship.

There is probably nothing the US can do to put pressure on Saudi Arabia to reduce domestic repression. It has tried to put pressure on Saudi Arabia to reducing its support for military aggression in Yemen without much luck. More pressure on Saudi Arabia obviously has the potential to push it to develop stronger ties with China.

The Yemen conflict is covered in a separate essay.


United Arab Emirates 

Armenia and Azerbaijan

The current conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is driven by the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is antagonized by many external actors.

Armenia and Azerbaijan are two neighboring countries and, like the Ukraine, were part of the former Soviet. Union, which is also referred to as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or the USSR.

Azerbaijan declared its independence from the Soviet Union in August of 1991. Armenia declared its independence from the USSR in September of 1991.

The region of Nagorno-Karabakh is located within Azerbaijan but also borders Armenia; both countries claim ownership of it. Most of the residents of Nagorno-Karabakh are Armenian, but it is considered to be part of Azerbaijan.

Until recently, Russia has generally restrained Azerbaijan from being militarily aggressive in Nagorno-Karabakh. Turkey, which has tried to play the role of the “middle man” Russia’s war on the Ukraine, has more aggressively supported Azerbaijan’s interests. The United States supports Armenia. Iran, in one shared interest with the United States, supports Armenia.

Despite the efforts of outside forces (the U.N., the Pope, Russian peacekeepers) to sustain peace in the region, Armenia and Azerbaijan have engaged in hostilities over Armenia.

In the early 1990s, Armenia had control of the area.  In 2020, however, Azerbaijan, back by Turkey, took control. In September, there were border hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan, resulting in more than 300 casualties and thousands of injuries.

The current flare-up is over the Lachin Corridor. The Lachin Corridor is the only land route between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.

On December 12, 2022, Azerbaijanians, describing themselves as environmental activists, took control of the road, claiming that Armenians were engaging in unsustainable resource extraction. Armenia claims this is preventing the delivery of important food and medicine to ethnic Armenians.

There are general calls to engage in diplomacy, which Pro teams will argue will avert a conflict that has potential for escalation. Pro teams will be able to make strong arguments that we need to act now (time-frame) and that the war has the potential to escalate between the US and Russia (magnitude).

While it’s nice to think generally that diplomacy might solve the conflict, it’s not really clear how that would work in practice.

As noted above, one of the main reasons that Azerbaijan was able to seize Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020 is that it had the support of Turkey. Diplomacy to avert a conflict, would, therefore, require the US to put diplomatic pressure on Turkey. There are three significant downsides to doing this.

First, the US needs to get Turkey to agree to let Finland and Sweden into NATO to strengthen European security. Turkey has been somewhat supportive, but is hedging its bets and threatening not to let them in. Putting pressure on Turkey over Armenia-Azerbaijan may result in Turkey not letting them in.

Second, the US is trying to get Turkey to refrain from attacking the PKK and SDF forces in Syria, as the US relies on those forces to engage the terrorist group ISIS. More pressure on Turkey may undermine their military restrain.

Third, alienating Turkey may undermine the limited cooperation they are displaying in Ukraine’s defense against Russia, including drone sales to the Ukraine and trying to broker agreements to allow gain exports.

US relations with Russia are obviously in the gutter, so there really isn’t anything we can do to get Russia to put more pressure on Azerbaijan, and Russia is currently distracted by the war in the Ukraine.

The US could put more pressure on Azerbaijan, and some commentators have suggested sanctioning Azerbaijan (or threatening Azerbaijan with sanctions or escalating sanctions if they don’t refrain). The problem with sanctions, however, is that they don’t really work to change behavior and they impoverish countries.

Anyhow, there is a very strong and timely case for diplomacy, but proving that it will work without producing enormous costs will be difficult.


Why are Armenia and Azerbaijan at War? The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict Explained. 

Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: A Visual Explainer

US Involvement

The Threat of New Wars in the Caucasus: A Good Case for U.S. Restraint

Armenia-Azerbaijan War Of 2022: What Should America Do?

Nagorno-Karabakh Is Ready to Negotiate With Azerbaijan With the Participation of International Mediators

The U.S. Might Be the Surprising Determining Factor in the Future of Armenia

Time for the West to think about how to engage with defeated Russia