Paul Pillar

Pence Goes Over the Water's Edge

As recently as a generation or two ago, the mainstream of American politics observed an important limit whereby domestic politics did not operate beyond the nation’s boundaries.  This did not mean there weren’t sharp differences and vigorous debate about foreign policy, often along party lines.  There always have been those, going back to differing Federalist and Democratic-Republican sentiments toward Britain and France in the early days of the republic.  The limit was nonetheless based on recognizing a common national interest in America’s encounter with the rest of the world, and on beli

A New Decision to Go to War in Syria

Behind a façade of continuity, the deployment of U.S. armed forces in Syria for the purposes that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson described in a speech this week represents a departure from what such forces were originally sent to Syria to do.  The Trump administration is having U.S.

Remember Those Protests in Iran?

Accountability in policy debate in the United States is sorely lacking.  One reason is the casual use of hypothetical alternative histories and of related assertions that by their nature cannot be proved or disproved.  Arguments that policymaker X would have gotten a better result if he had only done Y instead of Z get repeated with an air of certainty even though they often are nothing more than evidence-free and analysis-free “woulda coulda shoulda” rhetoric.

Killing the Iran Nuclear Agreement with a Thousand Cuts

Don’t be either fooled or relieved by President Trump’s waiving, for now, of nuclear sanctions on Iran, and thus his forgoing of an explicit withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the Iran nuclear agreement.  Trump still is determined to destroy the agreement, though not necessarily in the way he threatens, or in a way some have feared.

Ceding Diplomatic Leadership to Russia

Late this month Russia will host and broker a new round of Syrian peace talks in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi.  The Sochi talks will be an extension of talks that had earlier taken place in Astana, Kazakhstan, under the joint sponsorship of Russia, Turkey, and Iran.  If there is to be any diplomatic momentum in the weeks ahead regarding the Syrian conflict, that momentum most likely will be found in Sochi and Russia.  Although some Syrian opposition elements are still hoping the Un

Postures and Gestures Rather than Results

Last week an op ed appeared in The New York Times under the byline of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with the title “I Am Proud of Our Diplomacy”.  The piece did not seem to get much notice during the holiday period.  It evidently will serve as a defense of a thin and disappointing record as Tillerson nears the likely end of an unhappy tenure.  One has to have some sympathy for Tillerson, who seems to be a good man, however ill-suited he turned out to be for the job of chie

Epistemology, Rhetoric, and the Iranian Protests

With any country that, like Iran, has been the subject of acrimonious debate in Washington, pronouncements by American observers about events in that country have more to do with politics here than with what is going on over there.  So it has been with much of the spinning and interpreting of protests in Iranian streets during the past few days.  Some guidelines for intelligent, responsible, and useful commentary on those protests are in order, and applicable no matter what are the policy preferences of whoever is commenting.

Drugs versus Nukes

Those wishing to kill the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the agreement that restricts Iran’s nuclear program, have never given up.  The agreement’s ever-lengthening successful record, now more than two years old, of keeping closed all possible pathways to an Iranian nuclear weapon ought to have discouraged would-be deal-slayers.  But the slayers got a new lease on life with the election of Donald Trump, who, as part of his program of opposing whatever Barack Obama favored and destroying whatever he accomplished, has consistently berated the JCPOA.

Uniting, Against Trump's Policies, for Peace

When North Korea began the Korean War with an invasion of South Korea in June 1950, the armed response was waged under the flag of the United Nations thanks to the Soviet Union having absented itself from the Security Council. The Soviets were boycotting the council to protest the fact that China’s seat had not been given to Mao Zedong’s communists, who had won the Chinese civil war the previous October. With no Soviet veto in the way, the Security Council quickly passed the resolutions necessary to bestow UN sanction on the U.S.-led military resistance to the North’s aggression.

America Alone

 

The congressionally mandated national security strategies have for the most part not merited the term “strategy”.  They are public documents meant for public consumption rather than as guides to decision-making about individual foreign policy problems.  They are essentially an additional opportunity, along with presidential speeches and other vehicles, for expressing to the public an administration’s favored themes.

Pages