Blogs: Paul Pillar

The Big Lie and Foreign Policy

Why Donald Trump Might Become an Interventionist

Evaluating Obama

The Illusive Purposes of Toughness

Paul Pillar

General assertions about being more assertive not only mask the underlying absence of analysis but also enable blame to be cast in a desired direction.  This was true of Tillerson’s vague statements about insufficiently strong U.S. international leadership.  It was also true of Trump's comments, at a press conference that the New York Times headline aptly called a “chaotic forum,” about the election-related Russian hacking.  “He shouldn’t be doing it,” Mr. Trump said about Putin. “He won’t be doing it. Russia will have much greater respect for our country when I’m leading than when other people have led it.”  In other words, whether or not you have anything else to say on a subject—but especially if you don’t—blame Obama.

Such an approach may work in domestic U.S. politics but not in international politics, especially with as tactically skilled a leader as Vladimir Putin.  Give Putin enough credit not to be wowed or cowed by toughness qua toughness.  He instead will reach his decisions and make his moves in terms of specific costs, risks, relative strength of interests, and facts on the ground.  So will most other foreign leaders. 

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Ideological Warfare Against Nonviolent Political Islam

Paul Pillar

General assertions about being more assertive not only mask the underlying absence of analysis but also enable blame to be cast in a desired direction.  This was true of Tillerson’s vague statements about insufficiently strong U.S. international leadership.  It was also true of Trump's comments, at a press conference that the New York Times headline aptly called a “chaotic forum,” about the election-related Russian hacking.  “He shouldn’t be doing it,” Mr. Trump said about Putin. “He won’t be doing it. Russia will have much greater respect for our country when I’m leading than when other people have led it.”  In other words, whether or not you have anything else to say on a subject—but especially if you don’t—blame Obama.

Such an approach may work in domestic U.S. politics but not in international politics, especially with as tactically skilled a leader as Vladimir Putin.  Give Putin enough credit not to be wowed or cowed by toughness qua toughness.  He instead will reach his decisions and make his moves in terms of specific costs, risks, relative strength of interests, and facts on the ground.  So will most other foreign leaders. 

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