Paul Pillar

Mr. Trump, Make Yourself a Successful One-Term President

Dear Mr. President-elect:

Congratulations on your victory.  You have shown countless naysayers to be wrong about your prospects.  You have emerged victorious in the most important political contest in the world.  You are, without any doubt, a huge winner. 

Now I am going to make a recommendation that may sound jarring, given the mood of the moment.  But please hear me out.  This suggestion is made with your own best interests in mind.

You should announce that you will serve only one term as president.

Foreign Policy in an Ignorant Democracy

Amid the voluminous post-election analysis based on exit polls, and the many observations about such things as how Hillary Clinton fared compared to Barack Obama among blacks or women, one demographic pattern sticks out at least as much as any other in characterizing the 2016 presidential race.  Support for Donald Trump was strongly correlated with low education.  Clinton did substantially better than Obama did in 2012 among college graduates, including white college graduates.  Conversely, a majority of those with no college degree went for Trump even though they mostly supported Obama in

The Newest Hit to America's Image

The impact of the election result on the standing of the United States in the world has too many aspects to encapsulate or even, in this early stage of shock, to comprehend.  This is particularly so with a president-elect who will have to construct a foreign policy largely unguided by previous thinking on his part that exhibits consistency and coherence beyond a few themes such as discontent with free-loading allies, admiration for powerful autocrats, and conceiving of economic relations in zero-sum mercantilist terms.  But we can already note some aspects of America’s global standing that

Getting to Negotiations on Syria

Even some observers of the war in Syria who have wisely given up the idea of forcibly destroying the Assad regime still argue that greater force, including U.S. military force, should be used to induce that regime to negotiate a settlement of the war.  Stated that simply—as it often is—the argument reflects misunderstanding, in at least two important respects, of how the military status of a war relates to opening negotiations for a peace.

Felling ISIS and Facing Reality About Terrorism

The so-called Islamic State or ISIS is on the decline, and its “caliphate” on the ground in Iraq and Syria is shrinking to extinction. In Syria, the group has lost about a quarter of the territory it used to control, including its access to the Turkish border, and recapture of its de facto capital in Raqqa is coming into sight. In Iraq, ISIS has lost half the territory it once had, and a coalition of forces is knocking on the door of the group’s biggest prize, the city of Mosul.

The Importance of Apolitical Security and Law Enforcement Services

Many of the essential underpinnings of the liberal democracies that Americans enjoy go underappreciated by Americans themselves.  Among the most essential of these are law enforcement and security services that are genuinely apolitical.  They perform necessary functions in service of the entire nation’s interest in safety and order, without being used to promote the narrower interests of parties, movements, or leaders.  They constitute one of the biggest differences between the American political system—to the extent to which it is functioning properly—and politics in many more authoritaria

Military Force and the Fallacy of the Middle Way

There is a time-honored technique, familiar to veterans of policymaking in the U.S. Government, for ostensibly giving the boss a choice of options but in effect pre-cooking the decision.  That is to present three options, which can be aligned along a continuum of cost or risk or whatever, and to list as the middle option the one that the option-preparers want to have chosen.  Often this option is indeed chosen; as presented, it appears to be the most balanced and reasonable one, avoiding excesses of the alternatives on either side.

The Election That Killed Foreign Policy

The current election campaign has done more to set back U.S. foreign relations, and the cause of good foreign policy, than has any other American presidential election within memory.  One reason is the overall sordid image of American democracy in action that is being projected to people around the world, and to governments with an interest in exploiting that image.  The ugly picture includes the amount of attention given—unsurprisingly and necessarily so, given the character, comments, and conduct of Donald Trump—to such things as allegations of a candidate sexually assaulting women.

What Wins Respect for the United States

Much gets said and written, mostly as rhetoric intended to criticize the Obama administration, about the standing of the United States in the world supposedly having declined.  To the extent such rhetoric gets linked to specific policy prescription, it most often amounts to an assertion that respect for the United States derives from throwing its weight around and particularly doing so with military power.  But one doesn’t have to look hard for reminders that this is not really the way the world works.