James Denselow

James Denselow is a writer on Middle East politics and security issues.


James writes regularly for The Guardian and has written articles for Middle East International, The Huffington Post The New Statesman, Syria Today, The World Today, The Daily Telegraph and The Yorkshire Post. He has been cited in many international publications including The Boston Globe, Voice of America, The Sunday Telegraph, Reuters and AFP

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James writes book, television and film reviews for International Affairs, Middle East International, The Arab and The Guardian

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See James's published work

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In The Media

James in the media - Watch James discussing Middle East issues on a variety of media platforms including the BBC, Al Jazeera and Russia Today
Syria: from corridor diplomacy to humanitarian corridors PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Tuesday, 11 February 2014 16:44

(Open Democracy) Last week the UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi reported from the Geneva II peace talks that while no substantive progress had been reached so far "ice was being broken". Visions of what the conference aimed to achieve were vastly divergent from the start. The opposition hoped to implement the terms of the Geneva I agreement concerning a transition of power, while the regime framed the meetings within a narrative of support against counter-terrorism. In the absence of likely agreements as to either side’s primary aims there is hope that common ground can be found on securing humanitarian access to the beleaguered country.

Six and a half million Syrians are now internally displaced. Hundreds of thousands are stuck within a number of besieged areas of the country where reports suggest that starvation is being used as a weapon of war. In the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in the suburbs of Damascus, home to an estimated 20,000 people, things are getting desperate. While a record-breaking number of press credentials (+1,000) were issued at Geneva II, there are no journalists reporting from inside Yarmouk, where stories are emerging of people being forced to eat stray animals in the face of massive food shortages.

Geneva II: A marathon, not a sprint PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Tuesday, 11 February 2014 16:42

(Progress) After eight months of planning and nearly three years of war, the ‘Geneva II’ peace conference finally got started last week. Bringing representatives of the regime and the broad opposition together in the same city and subsequently in the same room has been a tortuous process while the conflict continues to drain the country to the tune of an estimated $109m a day. The start of the peace process was very much the equivalent of a ‘shotgun wedding’ – with all sides begrudgingly attending at the request of their international and regional allies. The key lesson to take away so far is that we have to be prepared for, and the British government should be ready to support, a long road to peace rather than an immediate grand bargain.

The actual launch of the conference was political pantomime at its best with a heady mix of unpredictability, high emotion and a media horde standing by to pick up on every moment. Things didn’t start well for the Syrian opposition delegation when its plane was grounded in Athens over a dispute over sanctions and refuelling. The set-piece launch of the event would prove more embarrassing for the United Nations secretary general. After Ban Ki Moon instructed the regime representative, Walid Muallem, to speak for ten minutes, he then proceeded to speak for thirty and just before wrapping up told Mr Ban ominously that ‘Syria always keeps its promises’.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 11 February 2014 16:44
Syria: the ‘extremist dilemma’ PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Wednesday, 15 January 2014 10:38

(Progress) As we hurtle towards the third year anniversary of the conflict in Syria it is time to address how extremists are increasingly centre-stage.


Let us consider two moments in the conflict in Syria. Last September, when it looked to the entire world that the United States was about to strike the country, Senator Ted Cruz criticised President Barack Obama’s efforts saying the U3S military shouldn’t be ‘al-Qaida’s air force.’ Last week Syrian rebels issued a plea to the West to supply them with arms and supplies. However what made this plea different from the numerous previous ones was that the weapons were requested to fight al-Qaida linked groups.



The presence of ‘extremists’ within the rebel opposition has been a critical factor in the arguments of the regime, its allies and those in the west who warn that the conflict has no good guys and is best avoided. The price of inaction is well known, over 120,000 dead, over half a million wounded and almost half the country displaced from their homes. Today there are almost more Syrians living outside of Syria than in the country. It’s time to acknowledge that the narrative born largely of the ‘War on Terror’ continues to dominate the British public’s view of the Syrian Opposition and therefore options around our greater involvement in the conflict.


The US Cavalry Is Not Coming PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Wednesday, 11 December 2013 13:05

(Majalla) Monday marked the 1,000th day of the conflict in Syria. The day itself saw stories of the regime on the offensive near the border with Lebanon, refugees struggling with the worsening winter, extremists kidnapping nuns, and continued pessimistic debate over whether the upcoming Geneva II peace conference will be a success. Meanwhile, Washington’s place in this tragic narrative increasingly seems to be on the sidelines.

On the same day, at a conference in Bahrain, the country’s Crown Prince, Sheikh Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa, warned that US President Barack Obama’s administration would lose influence in the region if it persisted with its “transient and reactive” foreign policy. Through a bizarre coincidence, another story was about to be broken by the renowned US investigative journalist Seymour Hersh that claimed to show US policy on Syria in its most reactive light to date. Hersh claimed, based largely on off-the-record interviews with US defense officials, that the Obama administration had cherry-picked intelligence surrounding the sarin gas attack in Damascus in August. His article claimed that the US knew that the radical Al-Nusra Front also had access to such weapons but that the regime was blamed as part of a decision to intervene militarily against it. This decision was then undermined by a lack of international support and domestic opposition in the States that led the US to embrace the face-saving agreement to disarm Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.

Sadly, Hersh’s story is unlikely to be corroborated and may join the increasingly long list of shadowy stories concerning US intelligence and Middle East weapons. What the story does conform to, however, is the widely held view of the Obama administration’s approach to the Syrian conflict as being reluctant and tactically responsive, rather than a strategic approach aimed at achieving a clearly articulated set of goals.


Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 December 2013 13:07
Syria’s Deadly Bureaucracy PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Denselow   
Friday, 30 August 2013 09:29

Majalla - The latest chemical attack, which allegedly killed hundreds in Damascus, will worsen the humanitarian disaster in Syria. Last week, the UN registered the one millionth Syrian child refugee. Earlier in the month, the UN also confirmed what many already suspected—that over 100,000 people have now died in the battle for Syria. Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, chair of the International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, responded with a phrase which could encapsulate the conflict, stating that “it is not enough to be appalled.”


As international intervention looms, the humanitarian crisis worsens and the boundaries of civilized behavior continue to crumble, it is important to understand that it is not just the Syrian regime’s tanks, aircraft, or possible use of chemical weapons, nor the opposition’s motley array, of weaponry that are killing people. Bureaucracy, both inside and outside the country, is increasingly acting to accentuate the fallout from the conflict, with a host of deadly consequences. It has become a weapon of war, manifested through paperwork, checkpoints and sieges, which are resulting in the denial of access to lifesaving medical care.

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