Paul Pillar

Syria: Still a No-Win Situation

Six years into one of the most complex, many-sided civil wars in modern times, Syria has almost no chance of being made whole any time in the foreseeable future.  The Assad regime, aided by allies, has pushed back from the brink of what many had thought, just a couple of years ago, would be its extinction.  But although the regime is not going to expire, neither can it—despite bravado assertions by President Bashir Assad—recapture the significant amount of territory held by diverse opposition elements.  Syria appears stuck with the variegated map that has become familiar to followers of the

The Paris Agreement and Trump at his Worst

Donald Trump’s inexcusable withdrawal from the Paris climate change agreement was widely expected and amply telegraphed by Trump himself, of course.  And yet, there were reasonable grounds for hope that this might have been one place where Trump would move from being a demagogic campaigner to being a real president, one who deals not just with applause lines but with real U.S.

Dozing Off on the Way to Planetary Ruin

Resistance to arresting human-caused warming of Earth is politically entrenched in personnel and policies of the Trump administration.  This makes the United States a conspicuous delinquent among advanced industrialized countries, as highlighted at the recent G-7 summit meeting, and among the community of nations generally, as highlighted by Trump’s refusal to commit to adherence to the Paris climate change agreement and by the United States surrendering leadership to the likes of

Trump Is No Realist

In his speech in Riyadh, President Trump said his administration was adopting “Principled Realism”—capitalized in the official White House version of the speech, as if to make a statement that there is a distinct doctrine being followed, one worthy of the term realismSome comm

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

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