Paul Pillar

Exploiting Russia's Fear of ISIS

As multilateral talks begin in Vienna to search for a possible resolution of the Syrian civil war, we should realize that even when a foreign government is not being entirely above board in explaining what it is up to, it still may be honest in identifying part of what motivates it. The principal government in question regarding the Syrian situation is that of Russia, which has said a lot about beating back the so-called Islamic State or ISIS but whose military operations so far in Syria seem to be saying something else.

Netanyahu's Stereotyping

Benjamin Netanyahu's bit of revisionist history about the origins of the Holocaust certainly deserves the outraged response it got this week. One wonders why he chose to push this line given the well-established and easily cited historical fact—which many of his critics did cite—that the Nazi regime's mass killing that would become known as the Holocaust was well under way before the meeting to which Netanyahu referred, between Adolf Hitler and the mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini.

Afghanistan, Iraq, and Endless War

It probably was inevitable, as a matter of how Washington as a whole approaches such things these days, that President Obama would make his decision about keeping 5,500 troops in Afghanistan into 2017. There is too much of an expectation that when internal violence prevails in a country in which the United States has had as much past involvement as it has had in Afghanistan, the United States should have its military forces on the scene to try to do something about it, no matter how dim are the prospects for accomplishing much there.

Dominoes Falling in a Vacuum: The Hazards of Metaphors in Foreign Policy

Physical, spatial imagery has long been applied to discourse about U.S. foreign policy. During the earlier portion of the Cold War, for example, the image of oozing red paint as representing the advance of communism—somewhat like the “cover the earth” logo of the Sherwin-Williams paint company—was often used. An even more prevalent and influential physical metaphor during the Cold War was falling dominoes.

Echoes of Afghanistan in Syria

The Russian military intervention to shore up the Assad regime in Syria, coupled with the previously begun U.S.-led military intervention in the same country—amid uncertainty about U.S. war aims and a reluctance to part with the objective of ousting Assad—presents the specter of a proxy war between Russia and the United States. Before the specter gets any closer to becoming a reality, we should gain what insights we can from a country that hosted previous proxy warfare, that was the scene of military interventions by both Moscow and Washington, and that continues to be a problem for U.S.

Politics versus Policy: Follow-up to the Iran Nuclear Agreement

The Obama administration had to expend considerable political capital in fending off attempts, during the recent Congressional review period, to kill the agreement to restrict Iran's nuclear program. As a matter of policy toward that program, such expenditure should never have been necessary; the strict limitations and scrutiny of the program that are embodied in the agreement are clearly better for U.S. interests than the absence of such limitations and scrutiny if the agreement had been killed.

The Foreign Costs of Domestic Political Craziness

The U.S. political class and political system in effect grant a lot of leeway and a lot of tolerance to excesses of American politicians, including excesses exhibited during election campaigns. There is little consistency and almost no principle in determining which comments by candidates come to be considered as campaign-crippling gaffes and which do not. Much gets said that does not cripple a campaign but which a majority of decent Americans, if they carefully thought about it, would probably agree is unreasonable, untrue, mean, inflammatory, bigoted, or extreme.

The Pope, Markets, and Volkswagen

Anticipating this week's visit by Pope Francis, different political factions and interests in the United States have been hoping to hear words from the popular pontiff that are consistent with their own agendas. They also are poised to spin, or if necessary dismiss, any papal statements that are not particularly consistent with those agendas. One set of issues sure to be subject to such treatment concerns the environment.

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