Paul Pillar

A President Without Purpose

Since early in last year’s election campaign, countless pages of commentary about Donald Trump’s presidency have taken the form that policy analysis about U.S. presidents and presidential candidates usually takes.  Purported policy objectives are identified, the basis for such objectives is discussed, and the likely strategy for attaining those objectives is explained.  Exegesis of speeches and remarks—and in Trump’s case, tweets—is performed to discern doctrine and direction.

The Safe Haven Notion

President Trump’s statement on Afghanistan has numerous shortcomings.  It portrays as a “new strategy” what is instead a familiar kicking of a can down the road.  It combines Trump’s habit of heaping blame on his predecessors with a warmed-over version of what those predecessors did in Afghanistan.  It declares a determination to “win” while leaving one guessing as to exactly what a win would mean in Afghanistan.  It fails to address underlying problems of governa

Netanyahu's Priorities and U.S. Responses

Recently I wrote about the two-sided Saudi policy on Iran, in which Riyadh sees good reason to take quiet steps to reduce tension with its neighbor across the Persian Gulf while still making alarm about a supposed Iranian threat the basis for keeping the United States tied to its side.  But Saudi Arabia (along with its partners in the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain) is not the only party in the region to exploit an anti-Iran theme as a basis for retaining U.S.

Why the Adults are Not Reining in Trump

Optimism has repeatedly been expressed, especially after any qualified and respected person has been appointed to a senior position in the current administration, that the “adults in the room” will check the excesses and compensate for the deficiencies of a blatantly unqualified president.  Hope placed on the four-star shoulders of John Kelly as he assumed duties of White House chief of staff is a recent example.

Hezbollah and the Simplistic School of Counterterrorism

Last month President Trump made a joint appearance at the White House with a visiting head of government, during which Trump spoke of the visitor’s country being “on the front lines in the fight against” an organization that is part of that same country’s governing coalition.  The visitor was Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the organization was Hezbollah.  Members of Hezbollah are ministers in Hariri’s cabinet.  Hezbollah has the fourth largest b

The Persistence of Falsehoods About the Iran Nuclear Agreement

The biggest current threat to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the agreement that limits Iran’s nuclear program, comes from Donald Trump’s obsession with killing the accord.  That obsession is driven by his impulse to undo whatever Barack Obama did and to fulfill campaign rhetoric based on such contrarianism.  The power of that impulse should not be underestimated, no matter how much it collides with truth, reason, and the best interests of the United States.  Trump has demonstrated parallel obsessions in pulling out of the Paris climate change agreement in the face of an ove

Sanctions as Feckless Disapproval

The recent bill imposing sanctions on Russia, Iran, and North Korea, which President Trump is signing in the face of veto-proof majorities by which Congress passed the measure, partly reflects the peculiar relationships Trump has with both Russia and Congress.  But the bill is consistent with, and puts in stark relief, a larger problem of Congress habitually using economic sanctions against foreign states as an expression of disapproval that is poorly designed to achieve any U.S.

Implications of a Siberian Candidate

The dribbling out of revelations, many of which contradict previous denials, about dealings with Russia of Donald Trump, his family, and his associates, has increased the plausibility of the more sinister possible explanations of what this affair is all about.  This has been especially true since revelations of the meeting last year in which Trump’s son, son-in-law, and campaign chairman met with Russian representatives with the intention and expectation of receiving dirt on Hillar