Paul Pillar

Evaluating Obama

Most of the end-of-presidency appraisals of Barack Obama’s performance in office have failed to capture the most important aspects of his presidency and what distinguishes it from others.  This shortcoming is only partly due to the difficulty of making good judgments about such things without the perspective that only the passage of time can provide—although this difficulty is indeed a significant factor, as suggested by how much general opinion about some past presidents has changed over time.

Russia Had Plenty to Work With: The Crisis in American Democracy

The health, or sickness, of democracy in foreign countries has long been a matter of concern in the United States, notwithstanding disagreements regarding exactly what the United States can, or should, do to promote democracy abroad.  Consider the case of the following country—for now, let us call it Slobbovia—as outsiders would view it and as it might be the subject of something equivalent to a State Department dispatch or a report from a nongovernmental organization concerned with democracy.

The Anti-Intelligence President-Elect

As serious as is the Russian interference, including hacking, related to the U.S. election, of even more concern is what the U.S. president-elect’s (along with some of his co-partisans’) comments on this matter foretell for how he will function as chief executive and steward of U.S. foreign relations.  Not in living memory has a president-elect, in just two months of a transition period, given so much additional evidence that some of the well-founded concerns about how he might operate as president will in fact materialize.  Then again, never in memory has any U.S.

Winning May Be the Only Thing for Trump, But Not For the U.S.

A slogan from the sports world—”winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing”—which usually is associated with Vince Lombardi, although he probably got it from another football coach, has always had a vacuous quality.  It sounds like an attempt to make a contrast where there isn’t really a contrast.  What meaningful difference is there between “everything” and “only thing”?  But if there is any semantic substance to the phrase, maybe it has to do with winning as a pure, abstract value in its own r

John Kerry Nails It: Realities of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech this week on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an excellent statement of the realities that are inescapable aspects of this conflict and that anyone who claims to deal with the dispute seriously must understand.  Most of those realities the secretary described with admirable clarity and directness.  A few others, at least as important, come through between the lines, although the hand of political correctness on matters involving Israel still weighs so heavily that even a secret

Trump Goes All In With the Settlers

Presidents-elect of the United States generally have hewn to the dictum that the country has only one president at a time, and that this is especially important with foreign policy.  The incoming president plans, appoints, announces, and does anything else he wants to indicate what his course will be after noon on January 20th, but until then it is the incumbent president who makes and executes U.S.

Heartstrings and Aleppo

Among large-scale tragedies involving human suffering and the many examples of man’s inhumanity toward man, only a few capture our imaginations and sway our collective emotions.  The question of which specific episodes achieve this special salience does not seem to depend on the scale of the suffering or even on the degree of immorality involved.  The salience instead arises through accidents and vagaries of history.  The villains in particular episodes may have been primed to play such a role because of previous affinities and alignments and how we had already come to see them as villains.

Pages