Paul Pillar

Truth-Killing as a Meta-Issue

Many of us have had more than our fill of the 100-day assessments of Donald Trump’s presidency.  Besides the arbitrary nature of this point on the calendar, and besides the sheer overload of the number of attempts at such a first-quarter report card, most of what gets put on such cards does not get at what is most important in evaluating any presidency.  Heavy emphasis gets placed on legislative acts.  Although an ability to work with Congress is one attribute we like to see in a president, it is only one and hardly the most important one.  Besides, the reasons for lack of legislative accom

Diverting Attention from the Tragedy of Palestine

The United Nations always has had, and rightfully so, a strong role in handling the conflict between Arabs and Jews over land in Palestine.  When the Ottoman Empire collapsed after World War I, Britain assumed administration of Palestine under a mandate from the League of Nations.  In the aftermath of World War II, when an overburdened Britain declared that it was ridding itself of the burden of Palestine, and with the League of Nations having died, it was appropriate that the successor international organization, the United Nations, would address the issue.  A special committee of the Unit

Destroying the Planet, and U.S. Leadership Along With It

With the wide path of destruction that Donald Trump has been cutting—in which the damage is affecting matters ranging from principles of nondiscrimination to ethical integrity of government officials to reliable health care for Americans—it is easy to lose sight of what ultimately would be the most consequential destruction of all: the damage to a habitable planet.  The consequences may not be as immediately apparent, during the first 100 days or even during four years, as some of the other carnage, but the importance to humanity is even greater.  As with many other Trump policies, it is no

Straining to be Anti-Iran

The Trump administration is bending over backward to be, and to sound, hostile and confrontational toward Iran.  This effort to flaunt a role for itself as a dedicated enemy of Iran has roots in the same factors that underlie the more widely established anti-Iranism in the United States, staying ahead of which is clearly an administration objective.  These factors include a troubled history highlighted for Americans by the hostage crisis of 1979-81.  They include pressure from intra-regional rivals of Iran—especially the Isr

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.

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