Paul Pillar

George C. Marshall: Statesman, Not a Warrior

Useful perspective on issues surrounding the nomination of the retired Marine Corps general James Mattis to be secretary of defense, including the issue of civilian control of the military, can come from reflecting on the career of the one other general ever to be U.S. defense secretary.  Whether the appointment of Mattis turns out to be good or bad will depend as well on other things, but for comparison and context, consider the role and talents of the third secretary of defense, George C. Marshall.

The Post-Truth President and U.S. Credibility

Just when we may have started to hope that the excesses of Donald Trump’s campaign will give way to a more sober and reasonable mode of behavior once in office, the president-elect has a way of lurching back to the familiar excesses, usually with an outburst on Twitter.  This past weekend it was his return to the Big Lie with the accusation that millions of people voted illegally in this month’s election.  It was an assertion so far removed from truth that the New York Times dispensed with journalistic political correctness and

Climate Change and the Priority of the Irreversible

Anti-Trump street demonstrations since the election have had an aimless quality.  It is hard to see anything they accomplish besides expressing frustration and letting off steam.  The lack of focus is one indication that many of those united by abhorrence of a Donald Trump presidency are likely to start tripping over each other.  The different emphases that different abhorrees give to different issues will mean competition for attention, energy, and resources.  Roots of such competition can be found in the habit, displayed in much Democratic Party politics and by Hillary Clinton’s president

Ideology is Supplanting Intelligence

With Donald Trump’s earliest appointments to senior national security positions, some of the disturbing implications for the making of foreign policy of his own lack of qualifications for office are beginning to appear.  A president-elect whose outrage-filled campaign alienated many serious thinkers in both parties has made personal support even more of a paramount consideration in the appointment process than it usually is, and even more than Trump’s own inclinations would have made it in the first place.  Not only does the priority given to insight and objectivity thereby lessen; the pres

The Unnecessary and Undemocratic Quadrennial Shuffle

Disarray in the Trump transition apparatus has been a major news story, so much so that one of the president-elect’s recent Twitter offensives has been to assert that there isn’t any disarray and to castigate the New York Times for covering the disarray.  Amid all the transition horse race coverage of who’s in and who’s out and which appointment will be even more controversial than other appointments, almost no one is taking this episode as another reminder of how needless is much of this confusion and turmoil.  The United States is alone among advanced representative democracies i

Building on the Iran Nuclear Agreement

Among the foreign policy issues on which Donald Trump took a simple anti-Obama, or anti-Clinton, stance during the campaign but about which he had not seemed to have devoted much thought, one of the most prominent and important is the agreement that restricts Iran’s nuclear program, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA.  When the new president does get a chance to give the subject more attention, he will see that opposition to the agreement is primarily a matter of old political baggage.  If he does not want to be burdened with such baggage and desires instead t

Mr. Trump, Make Yourself a Successful One-Term President

Dear Mr. President-elect:

Congratulations on your victory.  You have shown countless naysayers to be wrong about your prospects.  You have emerged victorious in the most important political contest in the world.  You are, without any doubt, a huge winner. 

Now I am going to make a recommendation that may sound jarring, given the mood of the moment.  But please hear me out.  This suggestion is made with your own best interests in mind.

You should announce that you will serve only one term as president.

Foreign Policy in an Ignorant Democracy

Amid the voluminous post-election analysis based on exit polls, and the many observations about such things as how Hillary Clinton fared compared to Barack Obama among blacks or women, one demographic pattern sticks out at least as much as any other in characterizing the 2016 presidential race.  Support for Donald Trump was strongly correlated with low education.  Clinton did substantially better than Obama did in 2012 among college graduates, including white college graduates.  Conversely, a majority of those with no college degree went for Trump even though they mostly supported Obama in

The Newest Hit to America's Image

The impact of the election result on the standing of the United States in the world has too many aspects to encapsulate or even, in this early stage of shock, to comprehend.  This is particularly so with a president-elect who will have to construct a foreign policy largely unguided by previous thinking on his part that exhibits consistency and coherence beyond a few themes such as discontent with free-loading allies, admiration for powerful autocrats, and conceiving of economic relations in zero-sum mercantilist terms.  But we can already note some aspects of America’s global standing that

Getting to Negotiations on Syria

Even some observers of the war in Syria who have wisely given up the idea of forcibly destroying the Assad regime still argue that greater force, including U.S. military force, should be used to induce that regime to negotiate a settlement of the war.  Stated that simply—as it often is—the argument reflects misunderstanding, in at least two important respects, of how the military status of a war relates to opening negotiations for a peace.