Paul Pillar

The Growing Danger of War With Iran

A combination of circumstances has increased the risk that armed conflict will break out between the United States and Iran.  Such a war is no certainty, but the chance that one will occur is greater today than it has been in years.  Some of the relevant circumstances, such as the first two mentioned below, have been around in some form for a substantial amount of time, while others are more recent.

Echoes in Syria of Afghanistan in the 1990s

The battle for Raqqa is now being waged, and the diverse forces that have been helping to extinguish the self-proclaimed caliphate of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) soon must face squarely what becomes of the portion of Syria that ISIS had controlled.  It may be useful to recall an earlier and somewhat similar situation in which the defeat of a common enemy led not to peace and stability but instead to fighting among the victors.  This occurred some two decades ago in another land in which, like Syria, the United States struggles to formulate a strategy: Afghanistan.

Instability and Salman's Nepotistic Power Play

A foreign country may be a problematic partner for the United States for two basic types of reasons, both of which apply to Saudi Arabia.  First, the partner’s foreign policies may range from misguided to immoral, or risk sucking the United States into conflicts in which it is not, or should not be, a party.  Saudi Arabia’s calamitous war in Yemen is currently the leading example of this sort of problem.  More recently has come the economic and diplomatic offensive against Qatar, which threw a wrench into the Trump administration’s aspirations regarding regional security, and in response to

Troop Levels Are Too Important to be Left to the Generals

The comment of Georges Clemenceau, premier of France during World War I, that war is too important to be left to the generals was a sage observation even amid the total war in which his nation was then engaged.  The importance of maintaining a strong sense of political purpose and political control can be appreciated by contrasting Clemenceau’s France with what was happening in Germany.  There, General Erich Ludendorff, who held the title of quartermaster general, functioned during the last year of the war as almost a military dictator of Germany, with his influence extending to domestic an

Trump's Destabilization of the Persian Gulf

That “Arab NATO” didn’t last very long, did it?  The break with Qatar by some of its Arab brethren, including its nearest neighbors, is impressively comprehensive, involving a breach of diplomatic relations and an economic and transportation embargo.  It reflects sharp divisions not only within the Arab world but even among the half dozen monarchies that constitute the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).  The break is a resounding refutation of the notion, which was a leitmotif of President Trump’s recent trip to the region, that significant lines of conflict in the region can all be reduced to

Terrorism in Tehran: Reality Confounds Rhetoric

For Americans fed a diet of rhetoric about Iran that constantly links it to the sending, not the receiving, end of terrorism—in which “the leading state sponsor of terrorism” is the adjectival phrase routinely affixed to Iran, and in which official rhetoric such as President Trump’s speech in Riyadh mashes Iran together with Sunni Islamist terrorism of the ISIS variety into one undifferentiated blob of evil—the deadly attacks today in Tehran generate much cognitive disso

Syria: Still a No-Win Situation

Six years into one of the most complex, many-sided civil wars in modern times, Syria has almost no chance of being made whole any time in the foreseeable future.  The Assad regime, aided by allies, has pushed back from the brink of what many had thought, just a couple of years ago, would be its extinction.  But although the regime is not going to expire, neither can it—despite bravado assertions by President Bashir Assad—recapture the significant amount of territory held by diverse opposition elements.  Syria appears stuck with the variegated map that has become familiar to followers of the

The Paris Agreement and Trump at his Worst

Donald Trump’s inexcusable withdrawal from the Paris climate change agreement was widely expected and amply telegraphed by Trump himself, of course.  And yet, there were reasonable grounds for hope that this might have been one place where Trump would move from being a demagogic campaigner to being a real president, one who deals not just with applause lines but with real U.S.

Dozing Off on the Way to Planetary Ruin

Resistance to arresting human-caused warming of Earth is politically entrenched in personnel and policies of the Trump administration.  This makes the United States a conspicuous delinquent among advanced industrialized countries, as highlighted at the recent G-7 summit meeting, and among the community of nations generally, as highlighted by Trump’s refusal to commit to adherence to the Paris climate change agreement and by the United States surrendering leadership to the likes of

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