16 January 2020

A recent poll shows how Americans think about the war in Afghanistan

Shibley Telhami and Connor Kopchick

A recent poll finds that despite Americans’ hesitancy to deploy U.S. troops into other conflicts, they remain comparably supportive of maintaining the U.S. military footprint in Afghanistan, write Shibley Telhami and Connor Kopchick. This piece originally appeared in the Washington Post.

The Washington Post’s recently published Afghanistan Papers project revealed a purposeful effort, by both Democratic and Republican administrations, to mislead the American public on the harsh realities of the war in Afghanistan. This fall, we asked a nationally representative sample of Americans, as part of the University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll, what exactly they thought of the state of America’s longest war.

The survey was carried out October 4-10, 2019, online among a nationally representative sample of 1,260 respondents from Nielsen Scarborough’s probability-based panel, originally recruited by mail and telephone using a random sample of adults provided by Survey Sampling International. The margin of error is +/- 2.76 percentage points. The survey variables balanced through weighting were: age, gender, race/ethnicity, household income, level of education, census regional division and political party affiliation.

How Israel Views Trump’s Strike Against Iran

By Bernard Avishai

A billboard near the Israel-Lebanon border depicts Qassem Suleimani. The American assassination of the Iranian general seems of a piece with Israeli conceptions of “deterrence.”Photograph by Jalaa Marey / Getty

In the United States, early analyses of the Trump Administration’s assassination of General Qassem Suleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, tended to come with corresponding analyses of Iran’s array of choices for armed retaliation—attacks on shipping in the Persian Gulf, Saudi oil assets, Iraqi political targets, Israel, various diplomatic missions—suggesting that such a response is inevitable, and wondering, ominously, where it will come. By inference, the rationale for Donald Trump’s bolt-from-the-blue action will be justified, or not, by its consequences and their consequences. As General David Petraeus told Foreign Policy, “It is impossible to overstate the importance of this particular action. . . . Suleimani was the architect and operational commander of the Iranian effort to solidify control of the so-called Shia crescent, stretching from Iran to Iraq through Syria into southern Lebanon.” He added, “Now the question is: How does Iran respond with its own forces and its proxies, and then what does that lead the U.S. to do?”

Iran's Fire Ant Warfare

By Emily Stranger

There’s a reason Star Wars always is one of the highest-grossing movie franchises of all time, and it’s not only for the love of light sabers. Everybody loves a good resistance story that pits the forces of good against the forces of evil, especially with a plot like Star Wars: a resistance movement of likeminded heroes consistently battling against an evil empire and its imperial plans for universal domination and oppression.

If you want to understand how Iran and its allies view their cause, Star Wars offers a useful parallel from the world of fiction. Think of Iran as the leader of the resistance, and America as the empire. Iran regularly identifies itself as champion of the “Axis of Resistance” in the Middle East -- and ideally, in the world. In addition to Iran’s notorious proxy Hezbollah, Tehran has also funded, recruited for, trained, and deployed a sophisticated system of militias throughout Syria and Iraq that all identify as an integral part of Iran’s axis.

In my graduate program at Indiana University, I began to track this appeal to resistance. It had become a consistent theme as I studied some of these militias, namely the Fatemiyoun and Zeinabiyoun brigades. I created a research account to follow several of these groups and their fighters, and what struck me the most in their posts often was the degree to which they cling to the idea of resistance. Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani not only was a highly effective military strategist, but also savvy in contributing to this narrative of a brotherhood of resistance -- a resistance in which he himself took part. In pictures from the battlefield, Soleimani is almost always seen as sharing tea with his men, joining them in prayer, or comforting them before battle.

Iran Can Play the Long Game

By Kenneth Pollack
Source Link

Iran responded for the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani exactly as they said they would, with an overt military strike against a pair of American military targets. While the strike was perfunctory and mostly painless for the United States, we should not assume that Iran’s retaliation is over. There is a variety of means over time that Iran can employ to extract real vengeance for Soleimani’s death. Tehran could inflict real harm on the United States and its interests in the years to come. 

Iran’s meek response did not likely satisfy the desire for revenge felt by so many outraged Iranians, especially those among Tehran’s most senior leaders. Further, Soleimani’s killing has probably affected Iran’s internal politics. Iranian hardliners were already ascendant as a result of U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal and impose crippling sanctions on Iran. Soleimani’s killing will accelerate their rise.

Soleimani’s death has probably changed Iran’s strategic perspective in significant ways, some of which have already manifested themselves since the killing. Trump’s eagerness to take credit for the strike -- which backed Iran’s leadership into an unnecessary corner and forced them to retaliate overtly --undoubtedly reinforced Tehran’s perception that he is naïve and reckless, and therefore a dangerous threat to Iran.

On the day U.S. forces killed Soleimani, they targeted a senior Iranian official in Yemen

By John Hudson, Missy Ryan and Josh Dawsey
Source Link

On the day the U.S. military killed a top Iranian commander in Baghdad, U.S. forces carried out another top secret mission against a senior Iranian military official in Yemen, according to U.S. officials.

The strike targeting Abdul Reza Shahlai, a financier and key commander in Iran’s elite Quds Force who has been active in Yemen, did not result in his death, according to four U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

The unsuccessful operation may indicate that the Trump administration’s killing of Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani last week was part of a broader operation than previously explained, raising questions about whether the mission was designed to cripple the leadership of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or solely to prevent an imminent attack on Americans as originally stated.

REVEALED: Iraqi armed factions not ready to strike US forces, commanders say

By Suadad al-Salhy 
Source Link

The Iranian-backed Iraqi armed factions are lost, distracted and unable to effectively strike American forces in Iraq after the loss of two key leaders last week, Shia leaders have told Middle East Eye.

On Friday, the United States assassinated top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy head of the Hashd al-Shaabi Iraqi paramilitary grouping, when a drone fired three guided missiles at their convoy. Six other men were also killed.

'What happened was a surprise and a nightmare. To lose both men at the same time was a shock to all of us'

- Iraqi commander close to Soleimani and Muhandis

Europe Is Right To Show Restraint On Iran


Following the killing of Qasem Soleimani by American forces in Iraq, Washington and Tehran have spent days saber-rattling. Recent explosions in front of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad have intensified hostilities—President Trump is making direct threats against Iran on Twitter, while “death to America” echoes through the halls of the Iranian parliament. Now Iran appears to have added cyber-attacks to its arsenal, as the Department of Homeland Security briefly depicted a doctored image of President Trump bleeding from the mouth whilst being hit in the face by an individual clad in Islamic Revolutionary Guard attire. It seems that a war between the United States and Iran is closer than ever before.

In Europe, the response has been, for the most part, uniform. The European Union’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell has urged all sides to show maximum restraint in order to avoid escalation. French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab have all sounded comparable calls for de-escalation. In a slight divergence, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has sounded more supportive of the U.S. strike—he noted that his country “will not lament” the death of Soleimani, though he did call for calmed tensions between America and Iran.

Trump Kills Iran’s Most Overrated Warrior

By Thomas L. Friedman
Source Link

One day they may name a street after President Trump in Tehran. Why? Because Trump just ordered the assassination of possibly the dumbest man in Iran and the most overrated strategist in the Middle East: Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani.

Think of the miscalculations this guy made. In 2015, the United States and the major European powers agreed to lift virtually all their sanctions on Iran, many dating back to 1979, in return for Iran halting its nuclear weapons program for a mere 15 years, but still maintaining the right to have a peaceful nuclear program. It was a great deal for Iran. Its economy grew by over 12 percent the next year. And what did Suleimani do with that windfall?

He and Iran’s supreme leader launched an aggressive regional imperial project that made Iran and its proxies the de facto controlling power in Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and Sana. This freaked out U.S. allies in the Sunni Arab world and Israel — and they pressed the Trump administration to respond. Trump himself was eager to tear up any treaty forged by President Obama, so he exited the nuclear deal and imposed oil sanctions on Iran that have now shrunk the Iranian economy by almost 10 percent and sent unemployment over 16 percent.

Iran and the United States: What Comes Next

By George Friedman

In order to understand the current confrontation between Iran and the United States, we might begin with the Persian-Babylonian wars. Alternatively, we could begin with the decision of the United States to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq after the election of Barack Obama. Efficiency demands the latter.

The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 was carried out without opposition from Iran and indeed with covert support. Iraq and Iran had fought a brutal war during the 1980s, resulting in about 1 million casualties and costing a combined $5 billion. Not long after, Iraq would overestimate its position by invading Kuwait, leading to the first Gulf War. To Iran, the control of Iraq by Sunnis – a minority population and a sectarian rival no less – was an existential threat. Tehran was therefore delighted to see Saddam Hussein fall, since his absence would create an opportunity for it to dominate whatever government came next.

The war went differently. The U.S. blocked Shiite ambitions, fought the Sunnis and wound up in a crossfire between the two. Obama came into office committed to making it stop, planning to withdraw most but not all U.S. troops and to build an Iraqi army consisting of both Sunnis and Shiites that was friendly to the United States. (Iran, naturally, opposed the prospect.) But then came the Islamic State, which forced Washington to maintain troops in Iraq and caused Iran to intervene so as not to let a Sunni power take hold in Baghdad. The U.S. and Iran often cooperated with each other in the ensuing fight.

Donald Trump’s rant against Iran is the howl of a dying empire

Simon Jenkins

As the president slurred ritualised abuse of Iran and pleas to Nato, we saw the US’s days as world hegemon dribbling away

Donald Trump does not strut the world stage as Augustus triumphant. On Wednesday he might have commanded that “Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon … we will never let that happen”. But as he slurred at his autocue, he conveyed only ritualised abuse of Iran and pleas to Nato for help, a Nato he once majestically derided. I sensed we were seeing the US’s days as world hegemon dribbling away. Even Trump’s Republican ally Mike Lee called the Iran briefing “the worst briefing I’ve seen – at least on a military issue – in my nine years” in the Senate.

Trump pulls back for now but game of chicken with Tehran far from over

All empires outstay their declared purpose, let alone their welcome. All end messily – the operative word is all – be they Roman, Napoleonic, British or Soviet. All are vanquished not by superior power, but by self-delusion and geography. The British empire had neither the right nor the need to invade far-flung parts of Asia and Africa. It was defeated by them. The US has claimed the right to intervene in theatres as diverse as South America, the far east, east Africa and a portfolio of Muslim states. Justification varies from retaliation and deterrence to “self-defence” and the instilling of democracy.

Robotics Are Making Iran's Military More Dangerous Than Ever

by Michael Rubin
Source Link

Recent Iranian ship interceptions highlight Iran’s military challenge and continue to drive a regional arms race. Whereas Gulf Cooperation Council states spend lavishly on high-end, off-the-shelf, U.S.-built platforms, decades of sanctions and post-revolutionary strategic decisions to be militarily self-sufficient has led Islamic Republic to focus more on its own indigenous industries. Direct comparisons of defense spending between Arab states and Iran is difficult. While a superficial reading of public statistics shows Saudi and Emirati spending far outstrips Iran’s as a proportion of GDP, it would be a mistake to take public Iranian statistics at face value. Still, post-revolutionary Iran has long embraced asymmetric strategies such as terrorism or perhaps nuclear technologies to counter enemies, both real or imagined.

This should not surprise. Historically, many Middle Eastern countries have approached technology with suspicion, but Iran has been the exception. In the early twentieth century, for example, Saudi clerics resisted first the introduction of the telegraph and then radio. Into the 1970s, some Saudi clerics complained that television was a plot dreamed up in the West to separate Muslim children from God (some savvy clerics subsequently embraced the medium to spread their radical Wahabi perspectives). The Iranian Shah Nasir al-Din (r. 1848-1896) sponsored his own telegraph line in Tehran just over a decade after Samuel Morse laid America’s first long distance line. Both the Iranian government and public readily embraced almost every new generational technology, despite Iran’s often repressive political atmosphere. (The Iranian historian Hussein Ardakani, unfortunately writing only in Persian, chronicled this embrace in his seminal History of the Institutions of a New Civilization in Iran).

Why Iran's Cruise Missiles Are a Serious Threat

by Peter Brookes
Source Link

Possible reasons for that range from poorly performing missiles to an early warning from U.S. intelligence to the defensive measures taken by U.S. and Coalition troops, among others. In any case, we’re grateful there were no casualties.

While the Iranian regime insists that its efforts to wreak “revenge” for Soleimani’s death have been achieved, that may not actually be the case. A follow-on Iranian attack could come—and may be very different.

Next time, Iran could use its combat-tested and -capable cruise missiles.

Iran has the largest missile arsenal in the Middle East. It has diversified its missile force beyond ballistic missiles to include land attack cruise missiles (LACMs) and anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs) that can be launched from the land, sea or air.

Grand Canyon National Monument is created.

The Michigan Territory is created.

Plight of the Uyghurs: Why Muslims Won't Speak Up for Their Brethren

by Patrik K. Meyer
Source Link

Western media has extensively reported about the draconian forced assimilation program that Beijing is imposing on eleven million Uyghurs in Xinjiang. This program includes wiping out any traces of the Islamic beliefs and behavior of this historically Muslim Turkic ethnic group. Given that Islam requires every Muslim to defend his brethren right to practice Islam, it is expected from Islamic countries to be very vocal about this massive injustice. With a whopping 1.8 billion Muslims and fifty Muslim-majority countries, the Islamic world could exert significant diplomatic and economic pressure on China to stop forcefully assimilating Uyghurs.

The Islamic world has responded to the plight of the Uyghurs with deafening silence. That silence has not gone unnoticed by many western news organizations, which exposes the inconsistency between it and the unquestionable obligation that the Muslim world has to defend the Uyghurs. Headlines such as “Muslim countries’ silence on China’s repression of Uighurs,” “Islamic Leaders Have Nothing to Say About China’s Internment Camps for Muslims,” and “The Muslim World Remains Largely Mute on Uyghurs’ Plight” are just some discussing this issue. And when the Muslim world decides to express its opinion, it gets even worse. Most Arab states “give China a pass on Uyghur crackdown” and the de facto leader of most of the Muslim world, Saudi Arabia, defends Beijing’s brutal assimilation program by arguing that China has the “right to put Uighur Muslims in concentration camps.”

The Overwhelming Visibility of the Iran Plane Crash


To be alive in 2020 and connected to the immense information network is to experience a rich confusion of images, videos, social-media posts, and reportage about everything, all the time. The latest example: a Ukrainian-airliner crash outside Tehran. The plane, a Boeing 737-800, crashed shortly after takeoff yesterday, killing everyone aboard. There were unconfirmed rumors and general confusion and Twitter threads with videos, pictures, and analysis of what might have happened. (A missile? A malfunction?)

Beyond and next to the tragedy, it felt as if reality had melted and balled up together in one news story. The U.S. strike on an Iranian general last week had tilted the world toward a new precipice. Boeing’s problems with a different model of 737 have been global-headline news. And, of course, Ukraine is also at the center of geopolitics (not to mention American campaigns).

How could anyone know what had happened? The Ukrainians, Iranians, and Americans were all saying different things (not to mention the Canadians and the British).

US Now At War Against Iraq And Iran – OpEd

By Eric Zuesse

On January 9th, Iraq’s Prime Minister and Parliament again ordered all American troops out, but on January 10th the AP headlined “US dismisses Iraq request to work on a troop withdrawal plan” and reported that the U.S. State Department “bluntly rejected the request, saying the two sides should instead talk about how to ‘recommit’ to their partnership.”

It was not a “request” from Iraq; it was a command from them; and the U.S. and Iraq relate as conqueror and conquered, not as “partners.”

Consequently: the U.S. Government, now that it has been so unequivocally ordered to leave, is back again, unequivocally, to its invader-occupier role in Iraq. 

The AP report went on to say that, “The request from Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi pointed to his determination to push ahead with demands for U.S. troops to leave Iraq.”

Again there was that false word “request.”

Russia’s Role in Syria is Changing

By Dmitriy Frolovskiy
Source Link

This year could bring challenges for Russia’s role in the Syrian conflict, despite it having been at the forefront of efforts to resolve the crisis in the past. 

With the regime in Syria becoming less likely to undergo a reshuffle and Iran reaping the benefits of its wide-scale involvement, Moscow might face difficulties in promoting its vision of a political settlement, while competition with Tehran could become more evident. 

Threats of a military operation in Idlib, unresolved issues with refugees and expanding confrontation in Libya might introduce new twists to Russia-Turkey relations that would, nonetheless, be unlikely to change the stone-cold pragmatism at their core.

Russia could end up at a crossroads between its actual and declared goals in Syria. 

Although Moscow champions countrywide political settlement, it also places a high premium on its strategic military stronghold in the Latakia region. 

How Putin Tries to Depoliticize Russia’s Youth

Nikolai Petrov
Source Link

Climate change debates have not taken root in Russia. Yet, while speaking at an energy forum in Moscow, Vladimir Putin chose to comment on Greta Thunberg, the prominent 16-year-old Swedish eco-activist. Adopting his usual sarcastically condescending persona, Putin expressed regret that the ‘kind’ and ‘very sincere’ girl was being used by adults for their own political interests in such a ‘cruel, emotional way’.

These remarks may appear to have been intended to dismiss Thunberg’s environmental concerns. However, among the Russian public, concern about climate change is not widespread.

Fridays for Future, the movement started by Thunberg, received little uptake in Russia, inspiring less than 100 people to take to the streets in September. This does not compare to the 50,000 or more people who came out to protest unfair elections and police brutality in Moscow in August. Indeed, Thunberg herself is largely perceived negatively among the Russian public.

Trump's Mideast allies duck Iran confrontation

Source Link

For years, they urged America to take a harder line on Iran, dissed its decision to ink a nuclear deal with Tehran and cheered when a tough-talking Donald Trump won the presidency.

Now, America’s closest Middle East allies are practically ducking for cover.

In recent days, as the U.S. killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and Iran fired back with a missile barrage in Iraq, Gulf Arab states and Israel were expressing second thoughts about what they’d helped unleash.

Saudi officials called for “restraint” to avoid “aggravating the situation.” The United Arab Emirates stressed “the importance of dialogue and political solutions.” Even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who publicly praised Trump’s decision to take out Soleimani, privately told aides that the killing “isn’t an Israeli event but an American event” according to Israeli media accounts. “We were not involved and should not be dragged into it.”

These U.S. partners’ caution is remarkable given their past calls for America to “cut off the head of the snake” in Tehran, including by attacking Iranian nuclear sites.

American Exceptionalism's Latest Big Hit

By Christopher Mott

The recent assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani shows the dangers of assuming that Washington is exempt from the calculations that make or break sound strategy. Might and self-righteousness do not immunize the United States from consequences. While U.S. President Donald Trump's speech today signaled no further retaliation, it does not guarantee that tensions will cease to escalate.

U.S. aggression against Iran will push Tehran into the arms of U.S. rivals. When a powerful and aggressive foe strikes into a region with designs of expansion, it is logical that other powers will respond to counteract that force. This is essential to understanding how policymakers interpret an unstable geopolitical system and how they go about restoring a balance of power. The conceit of American exceptionalism is that it believes, for unverifiable ideological reasons, that the United States is somehow exempt from the practical realities of statecraft. 

When the Spanish were Europe’s dominant power in the 16th Century, Queen Elizabeth I reached out to the Dutch enemies of Spain with financial support and armaments. In this same time period on the other side of the world, Japan launched a massive war of conquest into Korea, an invasion that was repelled with Chinese support in men and material to the beleaguered Koreans. 

The New Anti-Americanism

By Richard Wike 

Anti-Americanism has surged in much of the world since U.S. President Donald Trump took office. New polling from the Pew Research Center shows that global ratings for Trump are similar to those President George W. Bush received near the end of his second term (and considerably lower than the high marks President Barack Obama enjoyed throughout his tenure). And as in the Bush years, the president’s unpopularity has led to a sharp decline in overall favorability ratings for the United States.  

In 2007, the median percentage of respondents who said they had confidence in Bush to do the right thing in world affairs was 21 percent across seven European nations regularly surveyed by Pew: France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. In the 2019 survey, the same percentage expressed confidence in Trump, compared to 79 percent who said they were confident in Obama in 2016. And the Trump era decline isn’t limited to Europe: across 24 countries surveyed during the final two years of Obama’s presidency, a median of 74 percent of respondents said they had confidence in Obama to do the right thing in world affairs. Looking at these same 24 countries, just 31 percent said the same about Trump in 2019. The median percentage (meaning that half the countries were above this percentage and half were below) with a favorable opinion of the United States dropped from 64 percent to 53 percent over the same time period. 

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same: The Failure of Regime‐​Change Operations

By Benjamin Denison

The United States has, at various times in its history, used military force to promote regime change around the world in pursuit of its interests. In recent years, however, there has been a growing scholarly consensus that these foreign regime-change operations are often ineffective and produce deleterious side effects. Whether trying to achieve political, security, economic, or humanitarian goals, scholars have found that regime-change missions do not succeed as envisioned. Instead, they are likely to spark civil wars, lead to lower levels of democracy, increase repression, and in the end, draw the foreign intervener into lengthy nation-building projects.

Even after high-profile failures in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, some in the policy community still call for ousting illiberal regimes. Regime-change advocates claim that this tool can achieve objectives more cheaply and quickly than sustained diplomatic pressure and engagement, and that such operations will not expand into broader military action. When presented with such claims, policymakers should consider the empirical record, which clearly reveals that a regime-change operation is more likely to fail than to succeed. Different polities around the world have different political priorities, and attempting to change these priorities by simply removing the regime is more difficult than typically imagined. Instead of promoting more democracy and advancing American security, the overuse of regime change undermines the effectiveness of other foreign policy tools that are more successful at enhancing freedom and improving human rights around the world, and therefore ultimately harms America’s ability to achieve its policy goals.


Could Syria Become Iran's Very Own Vietnam?

by Seth J. Frantzman

Israel’s new Defense Minister Naftali Bennett has warned Iran that Syria will become its version of Vietnam, where its forces will sink in the sand under Israeli airstrikes.

“There’s nothing for you in Syria,” he said during a late November trip to northern Israel. “Whatever you try to do, you will encounter a strong and determined IDF that will strike you.” The Israel Air Forces have already been striking Iran frequently in Syria, with more than a thousand air strikes against hundreds of targets. Israel has also been more open about recent airstrikes, mentioning the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps specifically and uncovering Iran’s role, from “killer drones” to precision missiles.

Bennett appears to want to add to what Israel is already doing. Named Defense Minister on November 13, he has previously been Minister of Education but has encouraged Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take a tougher stance against Hamas in Gaza and Iranian threats. This is a bit ironic considering that Netanyahu has been one of the loudest voices globally against Iran’s role in the Middle East, opposing the Iran Deal and seeking an arrangement with both Moscow and Washington regarding Israel’s attempts to prevent Iranian entrenchment in Syria.

Western Officials Believe Iran Shot Down Ukrainian Airliner

Source Link

Officials in the U.S. and Canadian governments believe Iranian missiles shot down a Ukrainian commercial airliner taking off from Tehran on Wednesday, adding a new layer of complication to the dramatic escalation in tensions between Iran and the United States.

“We have intelligence from multiple sources, including our allies and our own intelligence. The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a press conference on Thursday afternoon. “This may well have been unintentional.”

A U.S. official who spoke to Foreign Policy also suggested the plane could have been mistakenly shot down by Iranian missile systems. The downing of the plane came immediately after Iran launched more than a dozen missiles at military bases in Iraq housing U.S. troops. Iranian air defenses would have been on high alert at that time.

Trump’s Napoleon Moment

By Robert Zaretsky 

“It’s worse than a crime, it’s a blunder.” Rarely has one man earned this epithet from so many commentators for so many of his actions than has Donald Trump. Whether in reacting to the president’s sacking of James Comey as director of the FBI, his imposing of the Muslim travel ban, or his abandoning of the Kurds in northern Syria, pundits have found this line irresistible.

No surprise, then, that President Trump’s decision last week to assassinate Qasem Soleimani, the Iranian general in charge of regional operations, has again inspired columnists and editors to cite the words usually attributed to the French diplomat Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand. George Packer led an article in The Atlantic with the quotation, while Jacob Heilbrunn channeled Talleyrand in the opening line of his column in The National Interest.

Charles Michel admits: EU’s not in the Middle East ‘game’

European Council President Charles Michel appeared to admit as much anyway, in a series of comments on Thursday about the recent crisis in the Middle East in which he insisted the EU would seize a bigger role on the world stage. He just didn't say how.

"It's very important for the European Union not only to observe what the others would decide for us but it's important for the European Union to be an actor, to be a player," Michel said, standing alongside Andrej Plenković, the prime minister of Croatia, which took over the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU at the start of this month.

"I want Europe [to be] part of the game," Michel, who took office at the start of December, told reporters in the Croatian capital, Zagreb. "I want Europe to be more involved at external level."