Paul Pillar

How Trump is Reshaping American Foreign Policy

The urge within the commentariat to describe every president’s foreign policy in terms of some clearly defined doctrine is as strong as ever, but Donald Trump presents would-be doctrine-definers with perhaps their toughest challenge yet. This observation is not by itself a criticism of Trump’s policies. Doctrine is overrated. Given the complexities of America’s relationship with the world and the multiplicity of U.S. interests involved, any set of policies that fits neatly into a simply defined doctrine is apt to be too simple to uphold those interests effectively.

The Perils of Territorial Annexation

The main takeaway from the recent G-7 summit obviously is the damage to U.S.-allied relations from Donald Trump’s accusations about trade. Also worth assessing, however, is a different and milder disagreement between the U.S. president and the other summit participants: Trump’s urging (with support only from the Italian prime minister, the front man for a newly installed populist coalition in Rome) to readmit Russia to the group. The Group of Seven was established in the 1970s and did not expand to include Russia until the 1990s, after the collapse of the USSR.

The Lessons of the Past for the Present

Sixty-four years ago this week came a pivotal moment in the overdue discrediting and downfall of an American demagogue.  The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations held a nationally televised inquiry from April to June of 1954 that became known as the Army-McCarthy hearings.  Senator Joseph McCarthy, the Wisconsin Republican who made his reputation by fulminating against Communist infiltration, imaginary or real, in agencies of the U.S. government, had turned his aim at the U.S. Army.

It's Time to Explain the 'Libya Model'

It will take some time to piece together the strange story of the U.S.-North Korean summit that has been on, then off, then maybe on again. President Trump laid down a smokescreen by speaking, including in his letter announcing his cancellation of the meeting, as if it were the North Korean side that bailed out.

Religion Corrupting Policy, and Vice Versa

The most jarring takeaway from the ceremony redesignating a U.S. consulate building in Jerusalem as an embassy was the juxtaposition of the self-congratulatory speech making with the killing on the same day, by Israeli forces forty miles away, of sixty people and the injuring of 2,400 more as Palestinian Arabs protested their confinement to the open-air prison known as the Gaza Strip.

Hold the Iran Deal–Killers Accountable

At least President Trump’s statement today about Iran made clear exactly what step he was taking: an outright material breach of U.S. obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the multilateral agreement that restricts Iran’s nuclear activities. Trump said he will pile new sanctions on Iran, contrary to the commitment that was the U.S. side of the bargain that the JCPOA embodies and the United Nations Security Council has endorsed, even though Iran has been scrupulously observing its side of the bargain.

The Trump Administration Is Ready to Redefine a North Korea 'Win'

Believing one’s own puffery and press releases is a hazard for many public figures, but probably especially so for Donald Trump. Although the true beliefs of any demagogue may remain hidden, this hazard can be expected to be all the greater to the extent a leader who makes lying an all-consuming way of life, closes himself off from many sources of insight and information, and prefers the company of sycophants.

Netanyahu Makes a Case for the JCPOA

Benjamin Netanyahu’s display of a cartoon bomb before the United Nations General Assembly nearly six years ago received much ridicule but at least was grounded in some facts about uranium enrichment levels and how they relate to the ability to make a nuclear weapon. These days, Netanyahu doesn’t reprise that part of his General Assembly speech, and it’s not because of the ridicule.