Paul Pillar

The Election That Killed Foreign Policy

The current election campaign has done more to set back U.S. foreign relations, and the cause of good foreign policy, than has any other American presidential election within memory.  One reason is the overall sordid image of American democracy in action that is being projected to people around the world, and to governments with an interest in exploiting that image.  The ugly picture includes the amount of attention given—unsurprisingly and necessarily so, given the character, comments, and conduct of Donald Trump—to such things as allegations of a candidate sexually assaulting women.

What Wins Respect for the United States

Much gets said and written, mostly as rhetoric intended to criticize the Obama administration, about the standing of the United States in the world supposedly having declined.  To the extent such rhetoric gets linked to specific policy prescription, it most often amounts to an assertion that respect for the United States derives from throwing its weight around and particularly doing so with military power.  But one doesn’t have to look hard for reminders that this is not really the way the world works.

The Denigration of Bureaucracy

A worthwhile take on the U.S. government bureaucracy is offered in an op ed by Paul Verkuil, former president of William and Mary and chair of the Administrative Conference of the United States. Verkuil's piece begins by referring to some of what Donald Trump has said about reducing the federal bureaucracy, but more broadly it is a response to the very widely held attitude that with regard to that work force, less is better.

Relations with Saudi Arabia are Risky as Well as Confused

Mainly because of domestic American politics and the workings of the U.S. Congress, everyone has a right to be confused about U.S. policy toward Saudi Arabia, including the Saudis themselves. The first Congressional override of any veto by President Barack Obama has come on the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA); Saudi Arabia is the obvious, if unstated, target of this legislation, which permits private lawsuits against foreign governments on grounds of alleged involvement in acts of terrorism.

The Difficult Domestic Politics of Climate Change

Going into the first televised joint appearance (commonly called a debate) of the two major party presidential nominees, the 2016 election campaign has given disturbingly little attention to the looming long-term catastrophe represented by climate change. Certainly the issue deserves much more attention as measured by the relative intrinsic importance of topics that do get discussed. This includes not only diversionary topics such as Hillary Clinton's emails but also real policy issues such as ones involving the political future of Syria.

Don't Try to Imitate the Russians in Syria

Among the latest in the Washington Post editorial page's unrelenting drumbeat of criticism on Syria—which often does not make clear exactly what the United States should be doing there, except that whatever it does should involve more military force than it is using now—is a signed column by deputy editorial page editor Jackson Diehl, who says President Obama ought to emulate Vladimir Putin.