Paul Pillar

The Iran Nuclear Agreement: The Choice

Completion of the agreement to restrict the Iranian nuclear program puts into sharp relief the choice for anyone who weighs in on the topic and especially for the U.S. Congress, which will have an opportunity to accept or reject the deal. Gone is any meaningful kibitzing on how well the negotiators are doing their jobs. Gone are endless speculative permutations of how different issues might be resolved. Gone is conjecturing about how the outline that was the framework agreement announced in April will be fleshed out with detailed terms.

The Heavy Historical Baggage of U.S. Policy Toward the Middle East

There is much to be said for what is commonly called a “zero-based review”—a fresh look at a problem or project unencumbered by existing assumptions and practices. Just about any organization or mission could benefit periodically from such an assessment, to make possible the removal of accumulated historical impedimenta. This is true of U.S. foreign policy, which exhibits far more continuity than is often assumed.

Nurturing Extremism in Gaza

The histories of many lands have repeatedly demonstrated two patterns in the relationship of extremism to political and economic conditions. One is that the combination of miserable economic circumstances and a lack of peaceful political channels for pursuing grievances tends to gravitate people toward extremist groups and ideologies. The second is that the resulting extremism is on a sliding scale.

Chicken in Vienna

With the negotiations on Iran's nuclear program in its final days (and seven days of overtime having just been announced), a broken leg is not the most serious impairment to Secretary of State Kerry's ability to conclude an agreement that will ensure Iran remains a non-nuclear-weapons state and advances U.S. interests in other respects. The most serious impairment is the incessant urging by domestic critics that the U.S.

The Homeland and Ignorance About Terrorism

Many misconceptions about terrorism prevail among the American public. Occasionally one of these misconceptions gets challenged when hard data conveying a different picture become available. This is true of a recent New America study showing that most of the deaths in the United States from terrorist attacks since September 2001 have been perpetrated not by jihadists or other radical Muslims but instead by white supremacists, antigovernment activists, and other non-Muslim extremists.

The Odd American View of Negotiation

One of the unfortunate corollaries of American exceptionalism is a warped and highly asymmetric conception of negotiation. This conception can become a major impediment to the effective exercise of U.S. diplomacy. Although the attitudes that are part of this view of negotiation are not altogether unique to the United States, they are especially associated with American exceptionalist thinking about the supposed intrinsic superiority of U.S. positions and about how the sole superpower ought always to get its way.

The Pope, the Planet, and Politicians

Pope Francis's encyclical On Care For Our Common Home is significant as a strong and unqualified declaration of the need for humankind to change course if it is to avoid calamitous physical degradation of the only planet it has as a home. Although the Roman Catholic pope lacks, as Stalin reminded us, any army divisions with which to exert his influence, he does have one of the most credible claims to worldwide moral authority.

Foreign Policy, Politics, and the Zivotofsky Decision

The Supreme Court's decision this month in Zivotofsky v. Kerry was not only the correct outcome of the case at hand and of the specific issues it raised but also an important statement about the need for consistency and coherence in the administration of U.S. foreign policy. The Court's majority scrupulously avoided wading into the politics underneath the case, but its decision has helped to minimize the extent to which political undercurrents make for incoherence in foreign policy.

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