Paul Pillar

The Plummeting of U.S. Standing in the World

The Pew Research Center released last week the results of one of its periodic surveys of global views of the United States and its leadership and policies.  More than 40,000 people were polled in 37 countries across six continents, with the polling conducted between February and May.  The most salient finding is a dramatic drop in confidence in the United States and more specifically in the current U.S. leadership.  When asked about “confidence in the U.S.

The Growing Danger of War With Iran

A combination of circumstances has increased the risk that armed conflict will break out between the United States and Iran.  Such a war is no certainty, but the chance that one will occur is greater today than it has been in years.  Some of the relevant circumstances, such as the first two mentioned below, have been around in some form for a substantial amount of time, while others are more recent.

Echoes in Syria of Afghanistan in the 1990s

The battle for Raqqa is now being waged, and the diverse forces that have been helping to extinguish the self-proclaimed caliphate of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) soon must face squarely what becomes of the portion of Syria that ISIS had controlled.  It may be useful to recall an earlier and somewhat similar situation in which the defeat of a common enemy led not to peace and stability but instead to fighting among the victors.  This occurred some two decades ago in another land in which, like Syria, the United States struggles to formulate a strategy: Afghanistan.

Instability and Salman's Nepotistic Power Play

A foreign country may be a problematic partner for the United States for two basic types of reasons, both of which apply to Saudi Arabia.  First, the partner’s foreign policies may range from misguided to immoral, or risk sucking the United States into conflicts in which it is not, or should not be, a party.  Saudi Arabia’s calamitous war in Yemen is currently the leading example of this sort of problem.  More recently has come the economic and diplomatic offensive against Qatar, which threw a wrench into the Trump administration’s aspirations regarding regional security, and in response to

Troop Levels Are Too Important to be Left to the Generals

The comment of Georges Clemenceau, premier of France during World War I, that war is too important to be left to the generals was a sage observation even amid the total war in which his nation was then engaged.  The importance of maintaining a strong sense of political purpose and political control can be appreciated by contrasting Clemenceau’s France with what was happening in Germany.  There, General Erich Ludendorff, who held the title of quartermaster general, functioned during the last year of the war as almost a military dictator of Germany, with his influence extending to domestic an

Trump's Destabilization of the Persian Gulf

That “Arab NATO” didn’t last very long, did it?  The break with Qatar by some of its Arab brethren, including its nearest neighbors, is impressively comprehensive, involving a breach of diplomatic relations and an economic and transportation embargo.  It reflects sharp divisions not only within the Arab world but even among the half dozen monarchies that constitute the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).  The break is a resounding refutation of the notion, which was a leitmotif of President Trump’s recent trip to the region, that significant lines of conflict in the region can all be reduced to

Terrorism in Tehran: Reality Confounds Rhetoric

For Americans fed a diet of rhetoric about Iran that constantly links it to the sending, not the receiving, end of terrorism—in which “the leading state sponsor of terrorism” is the adjectival phrase routinely affixed to Iran, and in which official rhetoric such as President Trump’s speech in Riyadh mashes Iran together with Sunni Islamist terrorism of the ISIS variety into one undifferentiated blob of evil—the deadly attacks today in Tehran generate much cognitive disso

Pages