Paul Pillar

Trump's Muddled Military Messaging

The Trump administration’s miscommunication about the whereabouts of a naval strike force that includes the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson underscores the emptiness of the administration’s tough-sounding but vague rhetoric about putting states “on notice” and ending eras of “patience”.  The episode with the Vinson—which was sailing south for an exercise with the Australians as the administration was suggesting publicly that it was sailing north toward Korea—will lead additional forei

Cuba Frozen in Time

A week-long visit to Cuba reveals a tropical country of 11 million people that is stuck in a kind of time capsule.  The anachronistic aspects of the country are symbolized by the 1950s-era U.S.-made automobiles that cruise city streets—and the resourcefulness of Cubans is symbolized by whatever they do to keep those old cars running. 

Syria and the Call of the Quagmire

After the Soviet Union launched a full-scale invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, President Jimmy Carter remarked to a television interviewer that this event had “made a more dramatic change in my opinion of what the Soviets’ ultimate goals are than anything they’ve done in the previous time I’ve been in office.”  Carter took much criticism for this comment, with charges that he was revealing naiveté and should have known all along about the nature of the regime he was confronting.  But at least the Soviet military intervention was a very large data point—a major departure in Soviet po

Trump Falls for Sisi

President Trump was about as effusive in his public praise of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as his guest could have hoped for when the two met at the White House this week.  Sisi has “done a fantastic job,” declared Trump.  Contrast this reception of a ruler who took power in a military coup and since then has imposed conspicuously harsh policies on the Egyptian population, with the markedly less friendly tone of Trump’s interactions with, say, the democratically elected leaders of allies such as Germany or Australia.

In Bahrain, Confrontation for the Sake of Confrontation

The Trump administration has decided to remove any conditions regarding human rights from sales of F-16 fighter aircraft and other arms to Bahrain.  The rationale for doing so is the idea that hard power considerations ought to come before softer concerns for the rights of someone else’s citizens.  Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker, in applauding the decision, said arms sales should be decided by American strategic needs and not commingled with any pressuring

The Party of No, and now an Administration of No

The abortive attempt to pass Paul Ryan’s bill for tax cuts and partial dismantling of the health care system vividly demonstrated the consequences of trying to govern according to what one is against, rather than what one is for.  If this overwhelmingly negative approach had not been the Republicans’ approach (and Donald Trump’s), the story of the Affordable Care Act, and the politics surrounding it, would have been far different.

Has Afghanistan Become America's Afghanistan?

Fifteen years and counting.  America’s longest war keeps getting longer.  The very duration of the expedition, with an end no more in sight now than it had been at any of several points one could have chosen over the last several years, ought to indicate the need for a fundamental redirection of policy.  And yet there continue to be calls, including from influential members of Congress, to sustain and even enlarge the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan.

Political Discipline and a Strategic Void

Recent press reports have described the Trump White House shaping its relationships with federal departments and agencies, especially the Department of Defense, in two different directions.  On one hand, the administration reportedly is giving freer rein to the Pentagon to decide on its own about changes in, including expansion of, military operations.  An example of this method of decision was the insertion of Marine artillery and an Army Ranger unit into fightin

Evolution, Not a New Revolution, in Iran

Some hardline myths about Iran never seem to die.  One myth especially pertinent to U.S. policy is that revolutionary regime change in Iran is a significant possibility in the near future and that with a bit more of a push from the outside, the Islamic Republic will collapse and be replaced by something much more to our liking.  This illusion was prevalent in much of the George W.

Anti-Semitism in the U.S.: Its Foundations and Recent Surge

There is an upsurge in anti-Jewish hatred in America.  It has manifested itself in criminal and violent acts and threats of still more violence.  Jewish cemeteries have been vandalized, and Jewish educational and cultural institutions have received death threats.  The obvious increase in such incidents leaves no doubt about the existence of intense anti-Semitism, and about how it persists in the United States and not just elsewhere.  This hatred and prejudice should be vigorously condemned.  All Americans should realize that while Jewish citizens are those most directly vulnerable to harm,

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