Paul Pillar

What Would Be Most Likely to Unravel the Iran Nuclear Agreement

The agreement to limit Iran's nuclear program—one of the most significant achievements in recent years on behalf of nuclear nonproliferation—deserves ample attention and effort to preserve it. Preserving the accord will require much attention and effort, given that many of those who strove to prevent the agreement from ever being completed or implemented are still trying to kill it. A U.S.

Inconsistent Impatience on Cuba

A Washington Post editorial proclaims in its headline, “Failure in Cuba,” with a bank head that declares, “Mr. Obama's opening is not leading to positive change”. One should not expect anyone, including editorial boards, who have been opposed to a policy departure to change their own position quickly. But what the Post has to say about Cuba illustrates some unfortunate tendencies that have warped policy debate on other issues as well.

True, and False, Meanings of U.S. Leadership

A recent column by David Ignatius contains an important insight about how different countries perceive their roles in countering the extremist group known as ISIS. Ignatius observed a table-top war game at Israel's Institute for National Security Studies. The game scenario involved ISIS seizing control of a province in southern Syria and conducting cross-border attacks that inflict casualties on the armed forces of both Israel and Jordan.

The Forgotten Benefits of Offshore Balancing

Discussions of grand strategy often are too abstract and general to be of significant practical use in formulating sound decisions about specific foreign policy problems, but sometimes a concept drawn from such discussion points to an overlooked and fundamentally better way to approach such decisions. Such a concept is offshore balancing, which involves the United States not trying to do everything itself but instead exploiting rivalries between other states to prevent any one of them from acquiring hegemonic power and regional dominance.

ISIS and the Reversible Stages of Revolt

Large-scale armed insurrection tends to move through identifiable phases that correspond roughly to what Mao Zedong described many years ago. In Mao's formulation, the first of three phases emphasizes organization, propaganda, and the establishment of cadres and a presence in the areas in which the revolutionary movement intends to operate. The second phase is more violent and typically includes operations we would describe as terrorist attacks, as well as larger scale guerrilla warfare.

Pick Your Fights Carefully—With China, Iran or Anyone

The dramatic and fast-moving events in U.S.-Iranian relations over the past few days underscore, among other lessons, the following two. One is that results matter. No matter how hard the naysayers have striven to say nay, they have offered no alternative to actual U.S. policy that could have yielded results as favorable. And it's not as if there hasn't been ample experience to test what alternatives might have done. With regard to Iran's nuclear program, years of nothing but pressure and sanctions brought only years of an expanding program with ever more centrifuges spinning.

Happy Talk and Interventionist Fallacies

Fred Hiatt, whose Washington Post editorial page has been beating its drum incessantly for more U.S. intervention in Syria, comes at that same theme from another angle with a signed column that criticizes President Obama's state of the union address. Hiatt's critique illustrates some recurring and fallacious patterns of thought that arise in debate about U.S. intervention and especially military intervention.

Restraint in the Persian Gulf

Hardliners who—for their separate reasons in each of the countries where such hardliners live—are still determined to sabotage the agreement to restrict Iran's nuclear program must have been salivating when they first heard yesterday that Iran had taken into custody two U.S. Navy patrol boats and their crews in the Persian Gulf. This is just the sort of military incident that historically has upended detentes, spoiled diplomatic initiatives, and escalated into something much more than just an incident.

Don't Take Sides in Other People's Quarrels

The recent intensification of Saudi-Iranian tension also has intensified the all-too-habitual urge, in debate about U.S. foreign policy, to take sides in other nations' conflicts even in the absence of any treaty obligations to do so or good U.S.-centered reasons to do so. That urge has multiple sources. Some may be common to humankind in general, growing out of ancient life amid warring tribes and clans. Other sources are more specific to Americans and are related to an American tendency to view the world in Manichean good-vs.-evil terms.

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