Christian Caryl


Christian Caryl is a Senior Fellow at the Legatum Institute and the editor of Foreign Policy’s Democracy Lab website. His latest book is Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century.

  • Why Sochi?

    February 5, 2014

    Why would Vladimir Putin want to host the Olympics in an underdeveloped place where terrorists lurk nearby? The answer is not as complicated as it may seem.

  • 'Misha' Speaks: An Interview with the Alleged Boston Bomber's 'Svengali'

    April 28, 2013

    One of the more clouded aspects of the Boston bombings is the tale of “Misha,” a mysterious US-based Islamist who has been accused of radicalizing Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the elder of the two alleged bombers. Today I was able to meet and interview “Misha."

  • The War We Couldn't See

    March 20, 2013

    The war in Iraq has had a profound and divisive effect on America's national culture and yet remains, paradoxically, absent from our collective experience. For the nation that waged it, it was the invisible war, a conflict that came into focus only intermittently, and even then, without the immediacy with which previous generations lived through conflicts in Vietnam and Korea.

  • Islamist Déjà Vu: The Lessons of 1979

    September 13, 2012

    The year 1979--when Iranian student revolutionaries stormed the US Embassy in Tehran and took dozens of American diplomats hostage, and Muslim radicals in Saudi Arabia, a staunch US ally, brazenly laid siege to the Grand Mosque in Mecca--marked the debut of a new political phenomenon known as “Islamism.” Perhaps it’s helpful to recall the events of that year as we contemplate the tragic death of US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and the storming of American diplomatic buildings in Cairo, Sanaa, Tunis, and elsewhere in the Muslim world. Once again, a growing political force from within the Islamic world--one of which Westerners were only dimly aware--has dramatically and violently demonstrated its capacity to shape global politics.

  • North Korea's Not-So-Simple Succession

    December 19, 2011

    The Kim is dead. Long live the Kim. That, at least, is the story you’ll get from most of the initial takes on the death of Kim Jong Il, whose death was announced Monday around noon, Korean time. His designated political heir, his son Kim Jong Un, is now set to take the reins. That, at least, is how it’s supposed to happen according to the peculiar rules of the world’s only communist monarchy. After all, isn’t the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea a staunchly totalitarian state where nothing ever changes? Actually, no. You could have gotten away with writing that just a few years ago. But too much has happened in North Korea in the interim.

  • America, Achilles

    September 13, 2011

    Until September 2001, North Americans had not witnessed the spectacle of mass death on their own territory for at least a century. Then, our enemies suddenly staged a devastating attack on some of our most significant places. That was a trauma--on top of the sheer loss of life--that seemed impossible to swallow. As we sent our armies out into the world, we felt that our actions were automatically legitimized by our new awareness of our vulnerability. Surely, we felt, this was self-evident; it required no further explanation. The rest of the world, however, has a hard time seeing our wounds. Today the rest of the world sees us, straightforwardly, as the country that spends more on its military than the next eighteen or so nations combined.

  • Pakistan: When The State Loses Control

    January 6, 2011

    In his great book of reportage on the revolution in Iran, Shah of Shahs, Ryszard Kapuscinski describes that mysterious tipping point when a demonstrator loses his fear of the Shah's security forces and refuses to listen when the once all-powerful police order him to step back. Suddenly, all involved realize that the power of the state to cow people into obedience has been broken. I was reminded of that episode by the tragic January 4 murder of Salman Taseer, governor of Pakistan's Punjab Province, by a member of his own security detail, in a public shooting just a mile from the presidential palace in Islamabad.

  • WikiLeaks in the Moral Void

    December 7, 2010

    WikiLeaks changes everything. We can act as if the old standards of journalism still apply to the Internet, but WikiLeaks shows why this is wishful thinking.

  • North Korea's New Prince

    October 1, 2010

    So now it’s official. North Korea’s ruling party has given its blessing to Kim Jong Il’s choice of a successor. The lucky man is Kim’s third and youngest son, Kim Jong Un.

  • China: The Fragile Superpower

    November 19, 2009

    Some China watchers believe that China’s dramatically rising prosperity will inevitably make the country more open and democratic. President Barack Obama’s highly-scripted trip this week provided little to support that claim. As The Washington Post noted, in contrast to 1998, when Bill Clinton, standing in the Great Hall of the People, criticized the Tiananmen Square crackdown and “traded spirited jibes with President Jiang Zemin,” Obama and Hu Jintao held a “Chinese-style news conference of read statements, stares, and no questions.” Nor did the Chinese government make any concessions on the major issues—the valuation of China’s currency, pressure on Iran, action on climate change—that the White House was hoping to see addressed.

  • Al-Qaeda: The Uzbek Branch in Pakistan

    November 4, 2009

    Most of the reports about the Pakistani Army’s offensive in Waziristan have mentioned the Islamist extremists from Uzbekistan hiding out there—but they’ve often done so without really explaining what’s up. If you follow the coverage closely enough, you might learn that the Uzbek militants are tough fighters much feared by the Pakistani military, that they’re loyal auxiliaries of al-Qaeda who have displayed little inclination to negotiate, and that they’re being targeted by both the US and the government in Islamabad for these same reasons. The Uzbek Islamist leader, Tahir Yuldashev, was killed by a U.S. drone strike in Waziristan in August of this year—which says a lot about how seriously the Uzbeks are taken both by the US and the Pakistanis (who probably supplied the CIA with the information needed for the hit).

  • IEDs: What We Don't Know

    October 14, 2009

    Someone really needs to write a “History of the Improvised Explosive Device”—the IED—covering the period since September 11. This seems like a much-neglected aspect of the Long War—or whatever you want to call it—that hasn’t really gotten its due. Take some of the ominous reports that have cropped up in the news over the past few weeks: