After 16 Years of War, the United States and Afghanistan Ponder Next Steps

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, charged with the task of deciding whether to send more US troops into Afghanistan, must determine the mission, the level of support from allies and other partners in the region, and the readiness of the Afghan government and its forces to withstand an insurgency. Ultimately, Mattis must decide if more military fighting can deliver conditions for peace. Marc Grossman and Tom West support commitment of 5,000 more US troops: “It is not in America’s interests to leave Afghanistan to its current trajectory, with the Taliban controlling ever larger swaths of the country, seeking to topple the Kabul government and allowing growing safe havens for both ISIS and al Qaeda.” Grossman, former US Under Secretary of State and US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, was a Kissinger Senior Fellow at Yale in 2013. West is a former senior US diplomat who served in Afghanistan. Sending troops has risks, and the two writers conclude that any commitment of US troops requires an integrated and whole-government strategy, with cooperation from multiple departments in the United States along with leaders in the wider region. – YaleGlobal



‘The Trojan Women’ at Yale Summer Cabaret laments Syrian war

“The Trojan Women,” a tragedy by the ancient Greek playwright Euripides, depicts the plight of the wives and daughters of Troy, who await their fates after the Greek army has destroyed their city and slaughtered their men.

An all-female production of playwright Ellen McLaughlin’s adaptation of the classical play, which opened June 23 at the Yale Summer Cabaret, brings Euripides’ lamentation of war into the present day. The refugees of Troy become refugees of Aleppo, the Syrian city besieged and decimated during years of brutal civil war.

Shadi Ghaheri, the play’s director, said that while the politics of ancient Troy differ from the politics of modern Syria, the same cruelty and injustice portrayed in Euripides is borne by the hundreds of thousands of women and children who have been killed, maimed, or displaced during the ongoing Syrian war.

New tool measures resilience in adolescent Syrian refugees

Researchers from Yale University, together with partners at universities in Canada, Jordan, and the United Kingdom, have developed a brief and reliable survey tool to measure resilience in children and adolescents who have been displaced by the brutal conflict in Syria.

Over 5 million people have been forced to flee the six-year-old conflict in Syria, and over 650,000 Syrians are now rebuilding their lives in neighboring Jordan. Building resilience in people affected by war is a priority for humanitarian workers, but there is no established measure that could help assess the strengths that young people in the Middle East have in adversity. This makes it difficult to assess the nature of resilience and to track changes over time.

Saudi Arabia’s New Succession Plan Shakes Up the Middle East

Saudi Arabia – along with Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt – abruptly broke off diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar, then followed that up with an ultimatum and a 10-day deadline to respond. The first of 13 unreasonable demands targets Iran, Saudi Arabia’s key rival in the region by urging Qatar to curb diplomatic ties with Iran and close its diplomatic missions. Author Dilip Hiro reviews a history of antagonism between two monarchies as Saudi Arabia resists Qatar’s incremental steps toward freedom expression with an elected parliament, funding of Al Jazeera renowned for investigative journalism in the Arab world, and efforts to maintain Sunni-Shia ties by maintaining good relations with Iran. The US has a major base in Qatar, and its divided response does not help: The president throws full support behind Saudi Arabia, and diplomats and military leaders urge mediation. The Saudi king has approved a new line of succession, selecting a 31-year-old son as crown prince. Prince Muhammad bin Salman has a track record of endorsing aggressive moves against Iran, Yemen and now Qatar, and the expectation that other Arab nations will fall in line introduces more instability into a region that is already so volatile and violent. – YaleGlobal

Diplomatic Storm in the Gulf in Wake of Trump’s Mideast Visit

Tensions have long simmered between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, though both are monarchies and members of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Saudi Arabia and two allies severed diplomatic ties after Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani was reported to have delivered a speech on 22 May, suggesting support for Iran and doubts that US President Donald Trump would last long in office. Qatar claims news reports of the speech are false, a result of hacking. Author Dilip Hiro explains that the roots of animosity go back years as Saudi Arabia struggles to tolerate Qatar’s soft-power approach in the region: supporting the Arab Spring protests in 2011, funding Al Jazeera television’s investigative journalism, supporting the thousands who lost homes and businesses during the Israeli-Hezbollah War in summer 2006, and refusing to demonize Iran as Saudi Arabia’s rival in the region. US leaders often tempered Saudi impulses in the region, but Hiro warns that may no longer be the case. Rather than pursue nuanced and balanced policy, the US president now sides with the Saudis, and this could trigger more instability and conflicts among Muslims in an already troubled region. – YaleGlobal

Yale Excavation in Syria Continues to Reveal Secrets of World’s Earliest Cities

weiss tell lelain

Nearly four decades ago, in the Khabur River basin of northeastern Syria, Yale archaeologist Harvey Weiss uncovered a buried city that over the ensuing years would reveal important new insights into ancient Mesopotamia and the origins of civilization.

Beginning in 1979, Weiss’s excavation of the site known as Tell Leilan yielded ancient monumental temples containing cuneiform clay tablets kept by the rulers of the city, and more recently a 4,200-year-old palace, once a key center for the lost Akkadian empire. Within these mud-brick buildings researchers also retrieved carbonized grains and animal bones, traces of daily life that offered a glimpse of how this ancient civilization fed itself — and, as Weiss has long argued, evidence of the surprising role of climate change in its ultimate collapse.

Should You Invest in Uncertain Environments?

Investors are in the business of navigating risk and reward. Assessing timing, market conditions, competition, and impacts of technological changes is always a challenge. For those investing in the Middle East, you can add war, political turmoil, and swings in the price of oil. Can assessments of a leadership team or projected earnings hold up when uncontrollable external factors have so much power to make or break a business?

For a time, investors were finding more and more reasons to invest in the region. Foreign investment in the Middle East and North Africa grew more than tenfold, from $8 billion to $126 billion, between 2001 and  2007, according to World Bank data. Then the financial crisis devastated cross-border investing around the world. By 2011 other developing regions had recovered, surpassing previous peak investment inflows—but just as the investing environment improved, the Arab Spring swept across the Middle East, bringing a new wave of uncertainty. By 2015, foreign direct investment had fallen to $51 billion.

Hani Al-Qadi, CEO and general manager of the Amman-based Arab Jordan Investment Bank, discussed his approach to investing in challenging environments in a conversation with Yale Insights. A veteran of more than a quarter century of investment banking in the Middle East, he recommends selecting deals that are fundamentally strong and then requiring enough of a risk premium to be able to ignore the external uncertainties. For those willing to invest for the long term, he’s seen “phenomenal” returns.