Paul Pillar

Asymmetry in Syria and the Russian Drawdown

Whenever Russian president Vladimir Putin makes a significant move, several common reactions are routinely heard in American discussion. One such reaction, as Mark Katz notes, is to remark on how clever Putin supposedly is. Another common response is to express surprise. Many people expressed surprise when Russia militarily intervened last year in the conflict in Syria, and many of the same people are expressing surprise over the announced drawdown of Russian forces there.

Obama the Realist

Jeffrey Goldberg's long article in the Atlantic about Barack Obama's thinking on America's foreign relations, an article derived from a series of interviews that Goldberg had with the president, ought to be required reading for this year's presidential candidates and those who wish to advise the next president on foreign policy. It ought to be so because it lays out some splendidly clear and well-grounded realist principles, expressed by Mr.

The Latest on Non-Nefarious Iranian Behavior

One of the arguments recited most frequently by those wanting to keep Iran ostracized in perpetuity—so frequently that it has achieved the status of cliché—has been that the partial sanctions relief provided for in the agreement to limit Iran's nuclear program would lead to increased “nefarious” and “destabilizing” behavior by Iran in the Middle East because it would have more financial resources for such activity.

Tribal Beliefs and American Political Parties

The Donald Trump phenomenon and the suddenly frantic efforts within the Republican Party to try to stop Trump have led some observers to believe American politics are at a major inflection point, one where a familiar line-up of political parties and their backers could be substantially revised.

Safeguarding Privacy, Inside and Outside Government

A recent report in the New York Times, about impending new rules that would permit the National Security Agency to share more extensively with other U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted communications without first applying privacy protections, ought to be of concern to more people than just those who habitually oppose any possession by the government of such communications.

Building on the Syrian Truce

A common reaction to the first couple of days of the partial cessation of hostilities in Syrian civil war was surprise at how well the truce had held up so far. There earlier had been ample grounds for pessimism about whether any cease-fire in this very messy conflict would take hold at all.

Foreign Policy and Presidential Politics as a Team Sport

Bernie Sanders has become a primary focus of a common quadrennial subject for foreign policy wonks and presidential campaign watchers: the “teams” of advisers who affiliate with different campaigns. Ostensibly these advisers provide their respective candidates with wisdom and expertise that are inputs to coherent positions that the candidate takes on relevant issues during the campaign and, if their candidate wins, to coherent and sound policies while in office. Sanders has drawn criticism for being thin on foreign policy advisers.

Rudolf Hess at Guantanamo

Spandau Prison in Berlin was a red brick structure, on the western side of the city, constructed in the 1870s with the capacity to hold several hundred inmates. The Nazis later used it to detain some of their political opponents; it became a site of torture administered by the Gestapo before the concentration camps were built. After World War II the victorious allies took it over to house Nazi war criminals. Only seven such criminals ever were placed there, all of them ranking figures in the Nazi regime who avoided execution but were given prison sentences in the trials at Nuremberg.

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.

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