Featured Commentary

RAND researchers often write commentaries for publications on a variety of topics. This page lists recent commentaries and op-eds about the Middle East. For a complete list of commentaries and op-eds by RAND staff, visit the RAND Blog.

  • Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev addresses the first meeting of the Madrid Peace Conference in Madrid, Spain, October 30, 1991, photo by Jim Hollander/Reuters

    The Warsaw Summit Is No Madrid

    Feb 13, 2019

    The peace process begun in Madrid nearly 30 years ago showed promise, but ultimately stalled, and will need rethinking to adapt to today's Middle East. The world could use a worthy successor. The Warsaw summit probably isn't it.

  • Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro meets with Iran's President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran, Iran, October 22, 2016, photo by Miraflores Palace/Handout/Reuters

    Hezbollah Is in Venezuela to Stay

    Feb 11, 2019

    Whatever the benefits of replacing the current Venezuelan regime with Washington's preferred alternative, Juan Guaidó, there's reason to doubt that it would change the country's problematic relationship with Hezbollah. Hezbollah is well-entrenched in Venezuela, where it has established a vast infrastructure for its criminal activities.

  • Iranian youths sit under a large picture of Iran's late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (L), and Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at a park in Tehran, Iran, January 17, 2016

    The Islamic Republic's Foreign Policy at Forty

    Feb 8, 2019

    Forty years have passed since the Islamic Revolution. While Iran hasn't departed from its revolutionary roots, its foreign policy today is largely shaped by threat perceptions and interests, not ideology.

  • Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi listen as President Donald Trump delivers his second State of the Union address in Washington, February 5, 2019

    State of the Union: Insights from RAND

    Feb 6, 2019

    To shed light on a wide range of topics that figured in President Trump's second State of the Union address, we've rounded up insights from some of RAND's objective and nonpartisan research, analysis, and expertise.

  • Syrian residents watch as U.S. troops patrol near Turkish border in Hasakah, Syria, November 4, 2018

    Intelligence Losses Pose Large Risks as U.S. Troops Head Home

    Jan 24, 2019

    Departing theaters such as Syria and Afghanistan carries a host of associated risks, challenges and potential benefits. Leaders would be well served to factor into the debate the importance of U.S. intelligence collection capabilities, its connection to U.S. presence overseas and its role in anticipating current and future threats.

  • Supporters of Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah gesture as they hold Hezbollah flags in Marjayoun, Lebanon, May 7, 2018

    Helping Lebanon Succeed Is More Than About Countering Iran

    Jan 16, 2019

    As tensions increase on the Israeli-Lebanese border the possibility is growing that a confrontation with Iran may move from Syria to Lebanon. For the United States, turning its back on this small but strategically critical country and conflating U.S. interests in Lebanon solely with countering Iran could be short-sighted, and a missed opportunity at a time when the region has few.

  • Syrian Democratic Forces and U.S. troops are seen during a patrol near Turkish border in Hasakah, Syria, November 4, 2018

    America's Absence Could Be Syria's New Nightmare

    Jan 10, 2019

    President Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria reverses his administration's recent policy of retaining them as long as Iranian troops stay. U.S. withdrawal would give Bashar al-Assad, Iran, and Russia freer rein to subdue opposition forces. And Assad could feel emboldened to act with greater impunity and brutality.

  • A soldier stands guard near a poster of Syria's President Bashar al Assad and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Rastan, Syria, June 6, 2018

    Confusion Over the U.S. Withdrawal from Syria

    Jan 9, 2019

    Washington's strategy in Syria has been to impose costs on the Syrian government by diplomatic ostracism and economic sanctions. This punitive approach is morally satisfying and politically expedient, but as a practical matter it just helps perpetuate the conflict and sustain Assad's dependency on Iran.

  • Popular Mobilisation Forces fighters ride in a tank near the Iraqi-Syrian border in al-Qaim, Iraq, November 26, 2018

    Withdrawing from Syria Leaves a Vacuum That Iran Will Fill

    Jan 8, 2019

    President Trump's decision to withdraw American troops from Syria may be unintentionally signaling that the United States is unwilling to compete in critical geopolitical hotspots. Such a message could embolden powerful states—including Iran—to expand their presence.

  • Aerial view of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

    Book Review: The Heart of War—Misadventures in the Pentagon

    Jan 8, 2019

    Both Washington insiders and the general public may be inspired by Kathleen McCinnis's The Heart of War. The novel prompts readers to think more realistically about the Pentagon and its role in policymaking.

  • A Turkish-backed Syrian rebel rides on a truck with a mounted weapon at Manbij countryside, Syria, December 28, 2018

    The United States Can't Rely on Turkey to Defeat ISIS

    Jan 2, 2019

    Relying on Turkey to shoulder the burden of countering the Islamic State will provide the terrorist group with an opportunity to revive itself at a critical stage in the fight. Turkey's main focus is on the Kurds and Erdogan's opposition. Eradicating the Islamic State is a secondary priority that has often been ignored.

  • U.S. Soldiers surveil the area during a combined joint patrol in Manbij, Syria, November 1, 2018

    Trump's Syria Withdrawal: Right Idea, Wrong Way, Wrong Time

    Dec 26, 2018

    President Trump's desire to withdraw from Syria is consistent with his and his predecessor's national strategies, but the manner in which the decision has been taken is highly counterproductive. Unless modified it could have disastrous consequences, says James Dobbins.

  • Fadia Afashe showing her work at an art gallery in Damascus, Syria, April, 2009

    For One Syrian Refugee, the Research Strikes Close to Home

    Dec 22, 2018

    Fadia Afashe came to the United States to study public policy in 2011, with every intention of eventually going home to Syria. But when her fellowship ended a year later, the possibility of returning home had vanished. She became a refugee success story, but a path for others is needed.

  • Collage of 2018 best RAND video images

    Best RAND Videos of 2018

    Dec 19, 2018

    RAND research yields findings that run the gamut of potential applications and promising policy solutions. Here, we highlight three of 2018's most captivating videos featuring RAND research and its potential to inform policy.

  • Senators Marco Rubio (left) and Jim Risch speak at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, June 13, 2017

    Congress Can Save Arms Control

    Nov 27, 2018

    The Trump administration is seeking agreements with North Korea and Iran to eliminate their nuclear arms potential. Success may hinge on cooperation between the White House and Congress.

  • U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, March 20, 2018

    Could America Use Its Leverage to Alter the Saudis' Behavior?

    Nov 15, 2018

    As the Saudis' chief political and military partner and the undisputed security guarantor in the Middle East, the United States has considerable influence it can wield over Saudi decisionmaking. The Trump administration could consider using its influence to encourage Saudi leadership to moderate its assertive and damaging policies abroad.

  • Presidents Hassan Rouhani of Iran, Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, and Vladimir Putin of Russia hold a joint news conference after their meeting in Ankara, April 4, 2018

    Is Major Realignment Taking Place in the Middle East?

    Oct 31, 2018

    The shifting alignments in the Middle East have intensified since the murder of the Saudi journalist Khashoggi in Istanbul. Turkey has drifted away from NATO and toward Iran and Russia. Like Tehran and Moscow, Ankara is now more anti-Western than at any point in recent memory. What does this mean for the United States?

  • U.S. President Donald Trump, flanked by White House senior advisor Jared Kushner, meets with Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, May 20, 2017

    The Khashoggi Case and the Cost of Subcontracting U.S. Policy

    Oct 23, 2018

    Following the killing of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the United States needs to, at minimum, return toward a distinctly American policy toward the Middle East, one which can be distinguished from that of its local partners.

  • Mourners carry the coffin of Amin Karimi, a member of Iranian Revolutionary Guards who was killed in Syria, during his funeral in Tehran, October 28, 2015

    America's Indefinite Endgame in Syria

    Oct 16, 2018

    The Trump administration's position on the Syrian civil war has shifted from countering ISIS to containing Iran. America will remain in Syria as long as Iran does. But an unending timetable for the withdrawal of troops is far more problematic for Washington than it is for Tehran.

  • A destroyed building with a wall painted with the black flag commonly used by Islamic State militants, is seen in the town of al-Alam, Iraq, March 10, 2015

    ISIS's New Plans to Get Rich and Wreak Havoc

    Oct 10, 2018

    Although the Islamic State has lost nearly 98 percent of the territory it once controlled, it is ripe for a comeback in Sunni-majority areas of Iraq and Syria. The group has proven that it is capable of making money even without controlling large population centers.

  • Kurdish fighters from the People's Protection Units (YPG) run across a street in Raqqa, Syria, July 3, 2017

    The Power of Affiliates: Which ISIS Franchise Could Become the Most Capable?

    Oct 9, 2018

    With ISIS's caliphate in ruins, one of its affiliates could grow to become even deadlier and more capable than the core organization was during its peak. And with franchise groups and affiliates across the globe, there's no shortage of contenders to supplant ISIS as the world's most dangerous terrorist group.

  • Soldiers set off for a foot patrol after disembarking from a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter in Afghanistan, September 4, 2018

    The Risks of Permanent War

    Sep 28, 2018

    Why is America in Afghanistan? What interests justify its sacrifices? How will the war end? If the United States finds it hard to answer such questions after nearly two decades, the coming years are unlikely to provide clarity. If a campaign has no end, it can have no objective. If it has no objective, it cannot be won.

  • A student walks along a damaged street in the town of Kafr Batna, in eastern Ghouta, Syria, September 5, 2018

    Why We Should Measure the Economic Impact of Terrorism in the Middle East

    Sep 24, 2018

    Though physical impacts of terrorism in the Middle East should be the main focus of counterterrorism efforts, financial impacts should not be ignored. Officials could help mitigate devastating economic effects by identifying and protecting essential regional revenue streams like tourism and oil.

  • Chief of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Ali-Akbar Salehi makes a speech during a ceremony to receive locally-produced yellowcake, in Isfahan, Iran, December 5, 2010

    Can U.S. Pressure Lead to a New Iran Nuclear Deal?

    Sep 18, 2018

    It could be a mistake for the United States to assume that more pressure will bring Iran closer to ending or reducing its ballistic missile and nuclear programs. When it comes to measures aimed at Iran's nuclear program, more pressure could worsen nuclear risks and further drive a wedge between the United States and its European allies.

  • Iran's President Hassan Rouhani and Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz are seen on the mobile phone screen as they attend a news conference at the Chancellery in Vienna, Austria July 4, 201,8

    Iran's Disinformation Campaigns

    Aug 24, 2018

    New reports suggest that the Kremlin may have company in its efforts to shape the United States' domestic information landscape: Iran. As Americans prepare to return to the voting booths this fall, Washington would be well advised to look into Iran's disinformation capabilities and intentions.