Paul Pillar

Costs of the Clenched Fist

In his first inaugural address, one of President Barack Obama’s messages to America’s adversaries was that “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”  A few years later, the unclenching of Iran’s fist was marked by the election of reformist Hassan Rouhani and the entry of Iran into negotiations with the United States and five other powers, leading to a detailed agreement in which Iran accepted severe limitations on, and intrusive scrutiny of, its nuclear program and closed all possible pathw

Trump's Riyadh Speech: Bowing to the Saudi Regime

The bar for Donald Trump’s speech in Riyadh had been set so low that it was scraping the sand.  How much could be expected from a notorious exploiter of Islamophobia speaking to a gathering of leaders of majority Muslim countries?  Getting through the experience without causing major new damage should perhaps be considered a success.  Perhaps Trump and his speechwrite

Trump's Classified Toys

Intelligence rests on trust, and on the confidence of the provider of the information that whoever receives that information will safeguard it.  Such confidence is important at the level of individual spies, who take great risks to their own safety, sometimes in direct betrayal of their own countries, and need to believe that the information they provide and everything having to do with the relationship will be kept secret.   The confidence also is important at the level of governments and intelligence services.  A service sharing information with a foreign counterpart needs to believe that

Scandal and Foreign Policy: Keep Them Separate, but Don't Ignore Either

Among Washington’s biggest walking-while-chewing-gum challenges are those that involve trying to make policy soberly and carefully amid headline-grabbing scandal.  We have such a situation today, with the firing of the FBI director being the latest turn in the story of possible connections to Russia of Donald Trump, his entourage, and his election victory.  The problems include not only first-order ones of the media, members of Congress, and administration officials being highly distracted, and how the distraction can distort policy discourse on an important subject such as relations with R

Trump, Afghanistan, and Shades of the Tuesday Lunch

Impending choices by President Trump regarding the war in Afghanistan raise issues of national security decision-making in his presidency that in turn evoke pathologies of the past, with Trump’s personal habits threatening to make matters at least as bad as in the past.  Struggles for influence within the White House are part of the story—as Jacob Heilbrunn discusses in connection with differences over Afghanistan policy between Stephen Bannon and national security adviser H. R.

Palestine and the New Peacemakers

President Trump’s expressed desire to resolve, somehow, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is welcome, but the grounds for skepticism about this outweigh the reasons for hope.  The principal reason for skepticism is the lack of evidence that Trump has distanced himself politically from the position, embodied in the right-wing Israeli government and its most ardent American supporters, that favors perpetual Israel control of the occupied territories and, despite occasional lip service to the contrary, sees no room for Palestinian self-determination or a Palestinian state.  As a presidential ca

Truth-Killing as a Meta-Issue

Many of us have had more than our fill of the 100-day assessments of Donald Trump’s presidency.  Besides the arbitrary nature of this point on the calendar, and besides the sheer overload of the number of attempts at such a first-quarter report card, most of what gets put on such cards does not get at what is most important in evaluating any presidency.  Heavy emphasis gets placed on legislative acts.  Although an ability to work with Congress is one attribute we like to see in a president, it is only one and hardly the most important one.  Besides, the reasons for lack of legislative accom

Diverting Attention from the Tragedy of Palestine

The United Nations always has had, and rightfully so, a strong role in handling the conflict between Arabs and Jews over land in Palestine.  When the Ottoman Empire collapsed after World War I, Britain assumed administration of Palestine under a mandate from the League of Nations.  In the aftermath of World War II, when an overburdened Britain declared that it was ridding itself of the burden of Palestine, and with the League of Nations having died, it was appropriate that the successor international organization, the United Nations, would address the issue.  A special committee of the Unit

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