Jonathan Stevenson is a Senior Fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies and Managing Editor of Survival. He was National Security Council Director for Political-Military Affairs, Middle East and North Africa, from 2011 to 2013. (August 2020)


ISIS After Baghdadi

Suspected members of ISIS in a prison run by Kurdish-led forces in Syria, October 2019

Road Warriors: Foreign Fighters in the Armies of Jihad

by Daniel Byman

Targeting Top Terrorists: Understanding Leadership Removal in Counterterrorism Strategy

by Bryan C. Price
On October 26 Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, died when he detonated a suicide vest after being cornered by US Delta Force soldiers in a tunnel in Idlib province, along the border with Turkey in northwestern Syria. Idlib is the last remaining rebel-held province, and Baghdadi was apparently …

Hatred on the March

A screenshot from a recruitment video for the American neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division, May 2019
There is no longer any doubt that President Trump’s demonization of certain groups—immigrants in particular, but also his political opponents—has emboldened American right-wing extremists to commit violent acts. In the fall of 2018, just before the midterm elections, Cesar Sayoc Jr., a fanatical Trump supporter, sent pipe bombs to thirteen …

Iran: The Case Against War

Iranian Basij paramilitary forces during an annual reenactment of the Iran–Iraq War at a park in southern Tehran, 2015
The similarities between the current situation and the prelude to the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2002–2003 are unmistakable. A pugnacious and insecure US president obsessed with a government he has demonized is unconstrained due to a disrupted interagency process and a Congress paralyzed by a cowed and craven Republican Party. Sycophantic advisers and inordinately influential foreign powers insist that he can remake a region purportedly forsaken by his despised liberal predecessor. It is probably lost on Bolton and Pompeo—and certainly on Trump—that the US intervention in Iraq ended up increasing Iranian influence there and elsewhere in the region. It may also be lost on them that a war with Iran could be even more disastrous than the war in Iraq.

A Different Kind of Emergency

President Trump at a discussion of the US–Mexico border during a fund-raising roundtable with campaign donors, San Antonio, Texas, April 2019
President Trump appears to be testing the American political system’s tolerance for soft dictatorship through the cavalier—and potentially illegal—use of presidential emergency powers. On February 15, after months of blustery threats, he declared a national emergency on the southern US border and dispatched the Army Corps of Engineers to administer the construction of a wall by private contractors in order to stop the flow of migrants and drugs into the country from Mexico. Congress has delegated to the president broad authority to invoke a national emergency, presidents have done it dozens of times, and the courts have shown little appetite for questioning the president’s emergency powers. But the legal, political, and factual background to Trump’s declaration illuminates its egregiousness.

‘My Button Works!’

Donald Trump
It’s a bullish time for executive power. President Donald Trump’s conception of it is so expansive that he has asserted that he can pardon himself. The Supreme Court has reinforced that conception by upholding Trump’s blatantly anti-Muslim executive order restricting immigration. Trump’s belief that presidential authority is practically monarchical, his belligerent posturing toward countries such as Iran and North Korea, and his cavalier disregard for legal procedure have made many observers wonder if he will try to start a catastrophic war, and what safeguards exist to constrain him if he does.


With Flynn, Barr Burns Justice to Feed Trump’s ‘Obamagate’ Fantasy

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn leaving a court hearing, Washington, D.C., June 24, 2019

This legal argument of the Justice Department’s motion to withdraw its case against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn is a house of marked cards, and an artless one at that, but that doesn’t matter to Trump and company. It appears to be the latest salvo in a White House–concocted and Barr–orchestrated campaign to sully the Obama administration, invalidate the Mueller investigation, and sink the presidential candidacy of Joe Biden, whose popularity, along with Trump’s shaky approval rating, looks to imperil a second term for the president. Barr brushed aside the motion’s spuriousness with his snide remark that “history is written by the winner,” which he seemingly expects to be. But Trump’s flaws may now be irredeemably exposed.

A New Plan for Syria

A Syrian soldier escorting men from Moadamiyeh, a rebel-held suburb of Damascus, following a truce deal to relieve blockades and allow humanitarian aid to reach the area, October 29, 2013

The most realistic short-term US policy goal in Syria is to find ways to limit the areas of the country in direct conflict. This goal is not as far-fetched as it sounds, and there is already a basis for pursuing it: through a series of local cease-fires that could, if properly implemented and enforced, provide a path toward stability in several regions of the country, even as conflict continues elsewhere.