Paul Pillar

1914 and Aleppo

The centenary in 2014 of the outbreak of World War I elicited comparisons between the circumstances of the European crisis that touched off that horrendous conflict and conditions that surround current international conflicts. Many such comparisons focused on how confrontations involving an increasingly assertive China might spin out of control. Graham Allison, for example, wrote of how a possible confrontation in the East China Sea involving Japan could carry such a danger.

Political Instability and the Supreme Court Vacancy

We Americans, usually quick to judge other societies by American standards, can become more self-aware by reversing the direction of the comparison and thinking of what the attributes of other nations might highlight about our own deficiencies. Such comparisons can work in either of two ways. One is to observe how far the United States has fallen behind others in endeavors at which others excel and set the standards. Investment in transportation infrastructure, for example. Ride a train in Switzerland after riding one in the United States and the point becomes clear.

Whack-a-Terrorist in Libya

The “next front against Islamic State,” as a headline in The Economist puts it, appears to be Libya. The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, had talks last month with his French counterpart with an eye toward taking “decisive military action” against ISIS.

The Clinton Emails: What Is and Is Not Damaging

The kerfuffle over Hillary Clinton's emails has confused and conflated several distinct and important issues about classified information and government documents. Well-informed comment about Mrs. Clinton's case is handicapped, of course, by the rest of us in the public not having access to still-unreleased emails in question. The same goes for more recently mentioned and also unreleased emails associated with previous secretaries of state, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.

What Would Be Most Likely to Unravel the Iran Nuclear Agreement

The agreement to limit Iran's nuclear program—one of the most significant achievements in recent years on behalf of nuclear nonproliferation—deserves ample attention and effort to preserve it. Preserving the accord will require much attention and effort, given that many of those who strove to prevent the agreement from ever being completed or implemented are still trying to kill it. A U.S.

Inconsistent Impatience on Cuba

A Washington Post editorial proclaims in its headline, “Failure in Cuba,” with a bank head that declares, “Mr. Obama's opening is not leading to positive change”. One should not expect anyone, including editorial boards, who have been opposed to a policy departure to change their own position quickly. But what the Post has to say about Cuba illustrates some unfortunate tendencies that have warped policy debate on other issues as well.

True, and False, Meanings of U.S. Leadership

A recent column by David Ignatius contains an important insight about how different countries perceive their roles in countering the extremist group known as ISIS. Ignatius observed a table-top war game at Israel's Institute for National Security Studies. The game scenario involved ISIS seizing control of a province in southern Syria and conducting cross-border attacks that inflict casualties on the armed forces of both Israel and Jordan.

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.

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