'The region is like a powder keg'


U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) and Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili take part in the official welcoming ceremony at the presidential residence in Tbilisi July 23, 2009.

Article Highlights

  • U.S. interest in the South Caucasus certainly will decrease with the withdrawal from Afghanistan

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  • Obama is not a man who values allies like Azerbaijan; he does not understand the importance of friendship

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  • To use an airport in occupied land is very dangerous, but the Armenian government may push forward with such plans

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Editor's Note: Region Plus interviewed AEI Resident Scholar Michael Rubin about the future of US foreign policy in the South Caucasus.

There are some fears in the Azerbaijani analyst community that American policy in the region may be pro-Armenian, given that John Kerry (known for his ties to the Armenian Diaspora) is taking the helm at the State Department. What do you think of that?

Kerry has strong ties to the Armenian Diaspora, but I do not envision any change from the status quo when it comes to policy. Kerry is not known for consistency or principle on any side of any issue: when he no longer needs the Armenian community for election, I suspect he will ignore them. Frankly, Armenian activists I know in the United States fear that Kerry’s support for them was opportunistic, and not based on loyalty.
How would you comment on the opinion that American interests in the South Caucasus will decrease after the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan?
U.S. interest in the South Caucasus certainly will decrease with the withdrawal from Afghanistan. What’s worse is that no matter how much everyone in the region sees Vladimir Putin humiliating President Obama, Obama himself doesn’t recognize it and continues his flirtation with Moscow.
There are several security risks in the South Caucasus: Russian-Georgian relations, the Karabakh conflict, the situation in neighboring Iran. How serious are these risks and do you predict any military clashes in the region in the months to come?
The region is a tinderbox. What worries me most is Iranian overconfidence. While the United States won’t start a war with Iran, there is a danger that Iran will push the United States too far and force a reaction.
The former US Ambassador to Azerbaijan Matt Bryza said that President Obama will never be as active in the Karabakh settlement as Russian former President Medvedev was. Do you agree with that? Are there any restrictions to more US activity in the region?
Yes, I agree with Matt Bryza fully. I doubt Obama even knows where Karabakh is. From the White House perspective, crises in North Korea, Syria, Iran, Pakistan, Mexico, and Venezuela are always going to take priority. On top of that, Obama is not a man who values allies like Azerbaijan; he does not understand the importance of friendship. Even though, according to Wikileaks, Armenia has gone so far as to help Iran arm terrorists, Obama isn’t going to lift a finger. It really is a tragedy.  Azerbaijan deserves more from its relationship with the United States.

Armenians want to start using a new airport in the Azeri-occupied land. Do you believe they will? What potential consequences do you forsee?
To use an airport in occupied land is very dangerous. But the Armenian government may push forward with such plans. President Serzh Sargsyan presides over a failing economy and a declining population. The only thing he has to distract people is nationalism, and he will push ahead with that.  Nevertheless, the case of international reticence to use the airport in Northern Cyprus—at least for direct flights that don’t stop first in Turkey—will probably be a model for how any new airport on disputed land will function.

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About the Author



  • Michael Rubin is a former Pentagon official whose major research areas are the Middle East, Turkey, Iran and diplomacy. Rubin instructs senior military officers deploying to the Middle East and Afghanistan on regional politics, and teaches classes regarding Iran, terrorism, and Arab politics on board deploying U.S. aircraft carriers. Rubin has lived in post-revolution Iran, Yemen, both pre- and post-war Iraq, and spent time with the Taliban before 9/11. His newest book, Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engagement examines a half century of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes and terrorist groups.

    Follow Michael Rubin on Twitter.

  • Phone: 202-862-5851
    Email: mrubin@aei.org
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