Steven Simon is Professor of Global Studies at Colby. He was National Security Council Senior Director for the Middle East and North Africa from 2011 to 2012. His book The Long Goodbye: The US and the Middle East from the Islamic Revolution to the Arab Spring will be published next year. (August 2019)


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.

Reckless in Riyadh

Mohammad bin Salman
The recklessness of the Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman has been abetted by the Trump administration, which has boasted of its special relationship with the young de facto ruler (his father, King Salman, is in poor health, and MBS enjoys great latitude) and has avoided criticizing him for his misadventures. Yet Democratic contenders for their party’s 2020 presidential nomination are lining up to see who can Saudi-bash the loudest. The Democrats’ outrage has been further fueled by the suspicion that behind the president’s uncritical embrace of the Saudis are his hopes for personal enrichment from the relationship—a reasonable surmise in light of the Saudi habit of booking entire floors of his Washington hotel when delegations come to town. As the de facto alliance approaches its seventy-fifth anniversary, some American policymakers and scholars are questioning whether it still makes sense for the US.

Eve of Destruction

Iranians celebrating on the streets of Tehran following the announcement of the nuclear deal, July 2015
When President Trump withdrew the United States last May from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear deal concluded in 2015 between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany), and reimposed US economic sanctions in August, the potential consequences …

Powder Keg in Syria

A Hezbollah supporter during a campaign speech by Hezbollah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah near Beirut, Lebanon, April 2018
The air strike carried out against Syria on April 13 by the Unites States, Britain, and France—“Operation Desert Stormy” in Bill Maher’s memorable phrase—was carefully pegged to the alleged responsibility of the Assad regime for the chemical attack in Douma on April 7, which killed more than forty people and …

A Failure of Intelligence?

To understand why Americans did not recognize the true threat posed by the terrorists of al-Qaeda before September 11, consider the following exchanges. They are quoted from the transcripts of the testimony of Jamal Ahmed al-Fadl, the prosecution’s first witness in the trial for the bombings of two American embassies …


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.