Ilan Berman
Ilan Berman
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Pundicity: Informed Opinion and Review

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The Limits Of Saudi Reform

March 14, 2018  •  Al-Hurra Digital

Just how far-reaching are Saudi Arabia's reforms? These days, there is unbridled optimism in official Washington over what are widely seen as sweeping social and economic changes taking place in the historically-stagnant Kingdom. At first glance, Saudi Arabia does indeed appear to be on the march. Since 2016, when he formally unveiled his National Transformation Plan, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman – better known as MbS – has presided over an ambitious initiative to overhaul the national economy and Saudi society. Most visibly, this has entailed significant upgrades to the status of women, including the long overdue rights to drive, to attend public sporting events, and to participate more fully in business. Simultaneously, the Kingdom has begun reducing the pervasive – and costly – culture of economic subsidies which predominated in past years. The Saudi government likewise has commenced a serious effort to reorient the country away from its current, deep dependence on energy exports toward a truly post-oil economy. What the reforms haven't entailed, however, is a real rethink of the underlying tenets of the Saudi state. In multiple speeches and pronouncements, MbS has made clear that he has no plans to abandon the Kingdom's creed, or to repudiate the austere Wahhabi strain of Islam that serves as the country's organizing ideology. Nor has he given any indication that he intends to reign in the main communicators of that radical message: the country's powerful conservative preachers.

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What Iran Can Teach Us About North Korea Summit

March 12, 2018  •  USA Today

You could call it the Iranian negotiating model. After months of escalating tensions with the United States, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has offered to meet directly with President Trump, engendering cautious optimism from many who see this as a necessary first step to de-escalation in Asia. The White House has tentatively agreed to the meeting. And yet, without deft handling, this dialogue could allow one of the world's worst rogue states to reap enormous dividends as a result of its irresponsible conduct — much as happened with Iran in the not-so-distant past.

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Nervous In North Africa

February 22, 2018  •  The Washington Times

Officials in Morocco are apprehensive. "Africa is approaching a dangerous moment," one of the Kingdom's most senior political figures told me recently in Rabat. His bleak assessment, which I heard in virtually every meeting during my recent visit to the country, stems from what are essentially two factors. The first is the dawning realization, now proliferating among regional governments, that the security challenges confronting Africa following the Islamic State's collapse in Iraq and Syria might be more daunting than ever before. The second is a persistent worry that policymakers in Washington do not have an adequate appreciation of this increasingly perilous security environment - and of the need to resolutely address it.

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Iran's Uprising Pits The Country's Old Rulers Against Its Young Citizens

February 9, 2018  •  The National Interest

Last month, with mass protests underway on the streets of Tehran and other cities, one of Iran's most senior clerics inadvertently sparked an altogether different sort of international incident. On January 8, Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, one of the country's most powerful officials and a potential successor to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, traveled to Germany to receive medical treatment amid rumors of failing health. The visit prompted outrage from human-rights activists, and German authorities — under growing pressure from watchdog groups — contemplated bringing charges against Shahroudi for "crimes against humanity" for his role in directing the imprisonment and torture of numerous opponents of the Iranian regime. The sixty-nine-year-old jurist ultimately decided to flee the Federal Republic in order to avoid the fallout. The episode, however fleeting, nonetheless tells us a great deal about Iran's future, and about the generational transition now looming over the Islamic Republic.

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A Turkish-American Divorce?

February 5, 2018  •  Al-Hurra Digital

The United States "is an enemy country. It is a serious threat to our country's existence, its unity, integrity, present and the future. It is carrying out an open attack, and an undeclared war…" Those aren't the words of the radicals of the Islamic State, whose "caliphate" has been dismembered by America and its international partners over the past year. Nor are they the views of Iran's ayatollahs, now facing a White House that appears committed to curbing their regime's global menace. Rather, they are the sentiments of Ibrahim Karagul, a prominent Turkish journalist and commentator. In a recent column for Turkey's Yeni Safak newspaper, where he is editor-in-chief, Karagul laid out the outlandish theory that America's strategic goal in the Middle East is nothing short of the dismantlement and dismemberment of Turkey. "The U.S. administration is implementing a plan camouflaged by NATO and outcries of 'strategic partnership,'" Karagul writes. "The plan is to divide and destroy Turkey, just like in Iraq and Syria." Such paranoid conjecture is sadly par for the course in Turkey's notoriously conspiratorial political environment, which is replete with enemies of the state both real and imagined. But the fact that Karagul's was published in Yeni Safak, long considered a mouthpiece for the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, suggests that, at the very least, it runs parallel to the official thinking about America that now permeates Ankara's corridors of power.

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Books by Ilan Berman

Cover of Iran's Deadly Ambition Cover of Implosion Cover of Winning the Long War Cover of Tehran Rising

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