Paul Pillar

The Forgotten Benefits of Offshore Balancing

Discussions of grand strategy often are too abstract and general to be of significant practical use in formulating sound decisions about specific foreign policy problems, but sometimes a concept drawn from such discussion points to an overlooked and fundamentally better way to approach such decisions. Such a concept is offshore balancing, which involves the United States not trying to do everything itself but instead exploiting rivalries between other states to prevent any one of them from acquiring hegemonic power and regional dominance.

ISIS and the Reversible Stages of Revolt

Large-scale armed insurrection tends to move through identifiable phases that correspond roughly to what Mao Zedong described many years ago. In Mao's formulation, the first of three phases emphasizes organization, propaganda, and the establishment of cadres and a presence in the areas in which the revolutionary movement intends to operate. The second phase is more violent and typically includes operations we would describe as terrorist attacks, as well as larger scale guerrilla warfare.

Pick Your Fights Carefully—With China, Iran or Anyone

The dramatic and fast-moving events in U.S.-Iranian relations over the past few days underscore, among other lessons, the following two. One is that results matter. No matter how hard the naysayers have striven to say nay, they have offered no alternative to actual U.S. policy that could have yielded results as favorable. And it's not as if there hasn't been ample experience to test what alternatives might have done. With regard to Iran's nuclear program, years of nothing but pressure and sanctions brought only years of an expanding program with ever more centrifuges spinning.

Happy Talk and Interventionist Fallacies

Fred Hiatt, whose Washington Post editorial page has been beating its drum incessantly for more U.S. intervention in Syria, comes at that same theme from another angle with a signed column that criticizes President Obama's state of the union address. Hiatt's critique illustrates some recurring and fallacious patterns of thought that arise in debate about U.S. intervention and especially military intervention.

Restraint in the Persian Gulf

Hardliners who—for their separate reasons in each of the countries where such hardliners live—are still determined to sabotage the agreement to restrict Iran's nuclear program must have been salivating when they first heard yesterday that Iran had taken into custody two U.S. Navy patrol boats and their crews in the Persian Gulf. This is just the sort of military incident that historically has upended detentes, spoiled diplomatic initiatives, and escalated into something much more than just an incident.

Don't Take Sides in Other People's Quarrels

The recent intensification of Saudi-Iranian tension also has intensified the all-too-habitual urge, in debate about U.S. foreign policy, to take sides in other nations' conflicts even in the absence of any treaty obligations to do so or good U.S.-centered reasons to do so. That urge has multiple sources. Some may be common to humankind in general, growing out of ancient life amid warring tribes and clans. Other sources are more specific to Americans and are related to an American tendency to view the world in Manichean good-vs.-evil terms.

U.S. Intelligence Ought to Target Israel

An article in the Wall Street Journal about what the journalists describe as U.S. interception of communications of Israeli leaders has caused a stir, especially among those habitually quickest to leap to the defense of Israeli policies. We in the public do now know how much of the article's content is true; it represents one stream of reporting by one newspaper's correspondents.

Get Over It: Iran Will Have Missiles

There are several important things to understand about ballistic missiles and Iran, beyond the fact that this topic has become one of the latest on which those who want Iran to be an ostracized and feared pariah forever, and who still want to kill the agreement to restrict Iran's nuclear program, have seized.

Fantasies of a Liberal Interventionist

Ill-fated U.S. military adventures abroad have had various fathers, even though some of those fathers have tried to disavow paternity once the problems became apparent. Neoconservatives figure prominently in this story, especially given that one of the most costly misadventures in recent times, the invasion of Iraq in 2003, was a distinctly neocon project.

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