Paul Pillar

Making Sanctions Against Russia Work

Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken was admirably clear and focused in speaking to reporters about the intentions behind the newest round of sanctions against Russia. The purpose, said Blinken, “is not to punish Russia but to make clear that it must cease its support for the separatists and stop destabilizing Ukraine.” We should hope that everything communicated about the sanctions, including what is discussed with Russian officials in private, exhibits comparable clarity and focus.

Doing Damage While Keeping the Home Folks Content (For Now)

What do a plan by China to construct 50 coal gasification plants, and Israel's pressure on the United States to reverse a security-based ban (since lifted) by the Federal Aviation Administration on commercial flights to Tel Aviv, have in common? They both are examples of governments trying to shield their populations from immediate consequences of the government's own destructive policies, and thus to shield themselves from political pressure to change those policies.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and Iran Air Flight 655

The heavy coverage by U.S. media of the downing last week of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over the rebellious portion of eastern Ukraine has made remarkably little reference to the prior event that most resembles it: the shooting down with a missile by the U.S. Navy cruiser Vincennes of Iran Air Flight 655 on July 3, 1988, killing all 290 persons aboard. The Vincennes was in the Persian Gulf as part of U.S. military operations there during the latter phase of the Iran-Iraq War, which had been affecting shipping to and from Arab countries on the south side of the Gulf. U.S.

What Will Determine a Ceasefire in Gaza

Anyone who reads about the carnage in the Gaza Strip and has at least an ounce of humanity is hoping that a ceasefire will come soon. Jodi Rudoren's coverage in the New York Times suggests that current calculations of the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu involve weighing the crippling of the physical ability of Hamas to attack Israel against international condemnation of Israel that is likely to mount as long as the Israeli operation continues.

Five Things to Know About the Extension of the Iranian Nuclear Negotiations

The recently extended nuclear negotiations with Iran have had to compete for front-page attention with acute crises elsewhere. The agreement to extend both the negotiations and the interim commitments associated with them for another four months has nonetheless provoked comments from the usual quarters, including those who have never wanted any agreement with Iran and continue to try to sabotage the negotiations. Here are some key facts to bear in mind about the extension itself:

Iran, Russia, Gaza: Why They Need to Be Considered Together

In the face of intense, high-profile, and especially fast-moving problems, the decision-making apparatus for foreign policy and national security has a narrow attention span. Limited policy bandwidth becomes even more of a problem than it normally is. The weighing of relevant considerations is subjected to shortcuts. The most difficult problems tend to be viewed in isolation. Just getting through the day or the week without making such a problem even more difficult becomes de facto a national objective.

Breakout, Shmeakout: The Wrong Way to Assess a Nuclear Deal with Iran

Pens that diplomats wield can be mightier than swords, but not necessarily because they destroy swords, much less the ability to make them. An agreement reached through diplomacy is a joint affirmation that it is in the parties' mutual interest to behave in certain ways and a joint commitment not to do other things they are capable of doing. Even a surrender by a belligerent defeated in warfare involves a forgoing of continued resistance that would be possible but costly to both sides.

Asymmetric Warfare in Gaza

The score, as of late Friday, in the contest being waged in the Gaza Strip and Israel was 114-0, with the side in the lead continuing to run up the score. This is not some nightmare of a Brazilian soccer fan, but instead the deaths of men, women, and children, more than three-quarters of them civilians, according to the United Nations humanitarian affairs office. All of them are Palestinians in the Gaza Strip; so far in this match no Palestinian rockets have killed any Israelis.

Afghanistan Election Crisis: "Likely fraud on a million-vote scale is a big gap to bridge."

The two contenders in the disputed Afghan presidential election do not present a clear choice for us in the West to decide whom to root for, or root against. Both candidates are experienced, credible presidential timber, and we ought to be able to work constructively with either one as president. Ashraf Ghani is the more westernized of the two. He has a PhD from Columbia University, taught at other U.S. universities, worked at the World Bank, and was finance minister in the post-Taliban government of Hamid Karzai.

Benjamin Netanyahu's Excellent Adventure

The last few months have gone rather well for the right-wing Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu, in the sense of advancing its prime objective of indefinitely extending the occupation and colonization of Palestinian territory by ensuring failure of any diplomatic efforts to end the occupation. Netanyahu's success in this regard has been due both to his own tactical skill and to the luck of outside events.

Pages