Paul Pillar

Syria and Donald Trump's Impulses

Impending decisions about U.S. troops in Syria will be the next significant outcome of the continuing tussle, between a president’s urges and his appointees, that constitutes Donald Trump’s foreign policy.  Given Trump’s limited attention span and the erratic way in which he allows others to influence his decisions, however, policy on Syria will not necessarily reflect a larger pattern extending to other issues.

Gaza: The Open-Air Prison Seethes

Two recent pieces of news highlight, one indirectly and the other directly, the plight of inhabitants of the miserable patch known as the Gaza Strip.  The indirect report involves demographic data, based on official Israeli numbers that surfaced in a parliamentary inquiry, showing that in all the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, there are now about as many Arabs as Jews.  It has long been obvious that this point

Personal Information, Government, and the Not-So-Private Sector

The sudden attention to the exploitation, including for political purposes, of information on millions of Facebook users in ways that ought to make those users uncomfortable—and to how Facebook does not seem to have cared about such abuses—has been tardy and myopic even though the attention is fully justified.  It took the story about Cambridge Analytica’s mining of Facebook data to get that attention, even though the probability of such unwelcome exploitation of personal information has existed since the dawn of social media. 

The Iran Nuclear Agreement: Listen to the Voices of Experience

Donald Trump appears poised to make one of the most damaging moves yet of his presidency: to pull out of the multilateral agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), that severely restricts Iran’s nuclear program and closes all pathways to a possible Iranian nuclear weapon.  Iran is adhering—as inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency have repeatedly certified—to its obligations under the agreement.  Despite this record, Trump’s administration already has been violating U.S.

Saudi Fragility, and Why MbS Is No Ataturk

One of the more intriguing news reports about the rapid rise to power of the 32-year-old Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), concerns how he isolated his mother, placing her under house arrest for a time.  He kept her away from his father, the mentally declining King Salman, and devised phony explanations to the king as to why she was out of sight for so long.  MbS reportedly was worried that his mother might have opposed his power grab and in the interest of family uni

Trump's and Pompeo's Path to Nuclear Crisis

The prospective replacement of Rex Tillerson with Mike Pompeo clears one of the last apparent hurdles between Donald Trump and his destruction of a significant diplomatic achievement that has been squarely in the interests of the United States, of nuclear nonproliferation, and of the containment of conflict in the Middle East.  This is, of course, the multilateral agreement that restricts Iran’s nuclear program, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).  There is ample reason to worry that such destruction is a step toward an even worse consequence:

The Korea Talks and Why Policy Processes Matter

In July 1951, armistice talks began that eventually, after two years of difficult negotiations, would halt the Korean War.  The locale was the city of Kaesong, which was just south of the 38th parallel but on the North Korean/Chinese side of the front line.  The lead negotiator for United Nations forces was U.S. Navy Vice Admiral C. Turner Joy.  (After his death, the Navy honored Joy by naming a destroyer after him—a warship that in 1964 would be involved in the Gulf of Tonkin incident, a key event in the U.S.

Entertaining Our Way into Falsehoods

Long after Donald Trump leaves office, analysts will continue to discuss the roots of his presidency’s excesses and outrages.  They will offer explanations about larger phenomena in politics and society that go beyond Trump himself and that helped to make possible the damage he has inflicted on the republic.  Some of those explanations will focus on subsets of the population, such as his electoral base or the Republican Party.  Other explanations, just as appropriately, will point to still larger trends, attitudes, or developments that involve American society as a whole.

Unipolar Strategy in a Multipolar World

Vladimir Putin’s video show about formidable new Russian strategic weapons, which took up half of the Russian president’s recent state of the nation address, has given defense analysts plenty to chew on.  The presentation, which Putin probably was aiming at his domestic audience as well as an international one, left open questions as to how close to deployment are the weapons that were depicted in animated form, such as nuclear-powered cruise missiles and port-demolishing n

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