Paul Pillar

The Colombia Accord: When Negotiations and Concessions are Necessary

The peace accord between the Colombian government and the guerrilla group known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC deserves our applause and our support. It makes possible the end of one of the longest-running wars in the Western hemisphere. The agreement is good news for Colombians, for the hemisphere, and for the principle of peaceful resolution of disputes.

Saving Face in Tehran

Well, that didn't last long, did it? Barely a week after the announcement that Russian warplanes were using a base in Iran to launch airstrikes in Syria, Iran withdrew its permission to use the base. This development underscores how the Russian use of the base did not indicate some new “alliance”, as much commentary suggested. Iranian officials were not using that term. As I wrote after the announcement, Russians and Iranians were still not buddies.

The Cold War Mindset and Counterterrorism

Much of Donald Trump's recent speech on terrorism left one to wonder how what he was proposing would differ from current practices he supposedly was criticizing. Working on counterterrorism with other states including Russia, for example, sounds like what the Obama administration is doing now, including discussing with the Russians ways of combating terrorist groups in Syria.

The Woulda Coulda Shoulda School of Foreign Policy Analysis

A recurring feature in criticism of President Obama's foreign policy, particularly in referring to strife-torn Syria and Iraq, is the notion that if only the United States had followed some different course, bad things in such overseas places would not be happening. The dominant variant of such criticism asserts that if only the United States had somehow used more military force in those lands, then somehow the strife there would be less than it is. This variant gets repeated so often that it is already acquiring the status of conventional wisdom.

The Exceptional But Fragile American Democracy

Efforts to export American-style liberal democracy to foreign lands have bumped up against the fact that the successful working of such democracy depends on habits and attitudes that are rarer than most Americans think and that take a long time to develop. That is a reality encountered in places such as Iraq. The relevant attitudes are not only hard to develop but also easy to lose. And that is a reality we must face at home in the United States.

The Itch to Escalate the Syrian Civil War

The complicated, multidimensional nature of the Syrian civil war continues to discourage clear thinking in debate about U.S. policy toward Syria. The involvement in the conflict of multiple protagonists who are each anathema to the American debaters but who are opposed to each other within Syria is a fundamental complication that too often gets ignored. Basic questions of what U.S. interests are in Syria too often get overlooked.

The War Candidates

A common observation about the role of foreign policy in the current presidential race is that Donald Trump's candidacy is profiting from a lack of appetite among much of the electorate for continued heavy and costly U.S. involvement in overseas conflict. With Trump having made some remarks that sound critical of that involvement, support for Trump gets interpreted as a rejection of establishment thinking on foreign involvement and of Hillary Clinton's hawkishness (insofar as foreign policy rather than domestic issues might be shaping any voters' sentiments).

The Costs and Consequences of Managing Rogue States

Many variables are involved in the messy predicaments in the Middle East, but one way of framing the history and issues of U.S. policy toward the region is in terms of the approaches that have been taken toward so-called rogue regimes. That term, one should hasten to add, obscures more than it enlightens. But it has been in general use for a long time. Take it as shorthand to refer to regimes that have come to be considered especially troublesome and are subjected to some degree of ostracism and punishment.

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