Blogs: Paul Pillar

Making America Great, and Saving Israel in the Process

Terrorism and Presidential Messaging

Paul Pillar

Needed in addition to all this is a lesson in how responses such as re-instituting torture, carpet bombing other countries, targeting security patrols at Muslim-inhabited neighborhoods in the United States, or some other things presidential candidates have been calling for will not help counterterrorism and are more likely to hurt it, in addition to posing significant moral or legal problems.

President Obama surely realizes all this, and many of the points involved are ones that he already has touched on in at least scattered form in the past. But he also surely is smart enough to realize that straightforward expression by him of such points will trigger more of the sort of negative spin for which he has often been a target and that would be liable to drown out his own messages. Any efforts to put the terrorist threat into a realistic perspective would lead to accusations that Mr. Obama doesn't “get it” when it comes to the seriousness of the terrorist problem. Any effort to explain the actual relationship between the ISIS enclave in the Middle East and the potential for ISIS-related terrorism in the West would trigger accusations that the president is subordinating everything to a personal fixation on not using military force. And any pointing out of ISIS's actual setbacks would lead to accusations that the president is just trying to divert attention away from a failure to solve the ISIS problem and eliminate the threat.

So Mr. Obama is experiencing an additional sort of tension: between the need to steer the thinking of the American public constructively and the political dynamics that, through no fault of his own, would tend to negate any such effort at steering. In the meantime the feelings and emotions and politics surrounding the terrorism issue will leave the American public with some serious misconceptions.

Paul R. Pillar is a contributing editor to the National Interest. He is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a nonresident senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies.

Image: Flickr/White House.

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ISIS and Endlessly Expanding War

Paul Pillar

Needed in addition to all this is a lesson in how responses such as re-instituting torture, carpet bombing other countries, targeting security patrols at Muslim-inhabited neighborhoods in the United States, or some other things presidential candidates have been calling for will not help counterterrorism and are more likely to hurt it, in addition to posing significant moral or legal problems.

President Obama surely realizes all this, and many of the points involved are ones that he already has touched on in at least scattered form in the past. But he also surely is smart enough to realize that straightforward expression by him of such points will trigger more of the sort of negative spin for which he has often been a target and that would be liable to drown out his own messages. Any efforts to put the terrorist threat into a realistic perspective would lead to accusations that Mr. Obama doesn't “get it” when it comes to the seriousness of the terrorist problem. Any effort to explain the actual relationship between the ISIS enclave in the Middle East and the potential for ISIS-related terrorism in the West would trigger accusations that the president is subordinating everything to a personal fixation on not using military force. And any pointing out of ISIS's actual setbacks would lead to accusations that the president is just trying to divert attention away from a failure to solve the ISIS problem and eliminate the threat.

So Mr. Obama is experiencing an additional sort of tension: between the need to steer the thinking of the American public constructively and the political dynamics that, through no fault of his own, would tend to negate any such effort at steering. In the meantime the feelings and emotions and politics surrounding the terrorism issue will leave the American public with some serious misconceptions.

Paul R. Pillar is a contributing editor to the National Interest. He is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a nonresident senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies.

Image: Flickr/White House.

Pages

Asymmetry in Syria and the Russian Drawdown

Paul Pillar

Needed in addition to all this is a lesson in how responses such as re-instituting torture, carpet bombing other countries, targeting security patrols at Muslim-inhabited neighborhoods in the United States, or some other things presidential candidates have been calling for will not help counterterrorism and are more likely to hurt it, in addition to posing significant moral or legal problems.

President Obama surely realizes all this, and many of the points involved are ones that he already has touched on in at least scattered form in the past. But he also surely is smart enough to realize that straightforward expression by him of such points will trigger more of the sort of negative spin for which he has often been a target and that would be liable to drown out his own messages. Any efforts to put the terrorist threat into a realistic perspective would lead to accusations that Mr. Obama doesn't “get it” when it comes to the seriousness of the terrorist problem. Any effort to explain the actual relationship between the ISIS enclave in the Middle East and the potential for ISIS-related terrorism in the West would trigger accusations that the president is subordinating everything to a personal fixation on not using military force. And any pointing out of ISIS's actual setbacks would lead to accusations that the president is just trying to divert attention away from a failure to solve the ISIS problem and eliminate the threat.

So Mr. Obama is experiencing an additional sort of tension: between the need to steer the thinking of the American public constructively and the political dynamics that, through no fault of his own, would tend to negate any such effort at steering. In the meantime the feelings and emotions and politics surrounding the terrorism issue will leave the American public with some serious misconceptions.

Paul R. Pillar is a contributing editor to the National Interest. He is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a nonresident senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies.

Image: Flickr/White House.

Pages

Obama the Realist

Paul Pillar

Needed in addition to all this is a lesson in how responses such as re-instituting torture, carpet bombing other countries, targeting security patrols at Muslim-inhabited neighborhoods in the United States, or some other things presidential candidates have been calling for will not help counterterrorism and are more likely to hurt it, in addition to posing significant moral or legal problems.

President Obama surely realizes all this, and many of the points involved are ones that he already has touched on in at least scattered form in the past. But he also surely is smart enough to realize that straightforward expression by him of such points will trigger more of the sort of negative spin for which he has often been a target and that would be liable to drown out his own messages. Any efforts to put the terrorist threat into a realistic perspective would lead to accusations that Mr. Obama doesn't “get it” when it comes to the seriousness of the terrorist problem. Any effort to explain the actual relationship between the ISIS enclave in the Middle East and the potential for ISIS-related terrorism in the West would trigger accusations that the president is subordinating everything to a personal fixation on not using military force. And any pointing out of ISIS's actual setbacks would lead to accusations that the president is just trying to divert attention away from a failure to solve the ISIS problem and eliminate the threat.

So Mr. Obama is experiencing an additional sort of tension: between the need to steer the thinking of the American public constructively and the political dynamics that, through no fault of his own, would tend to negate any such effort at steering. In the meantime the feelings and emotions and politics surrounding the terrorism issue will leave the American public with some serious misconceptions.

Paul R. Pillar is a contributing editor to the National Interest. He is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a nonresident senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies.

Image: Flickr/White House.

Pages

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