Paul Pillar

Iran and the Collision between Trump and Reality

Donald Trump’s disdain for the truth does not prevent reality from repeatedly bumping up against his policies, the most consistent theme of which has been to try to destroy his predecessor’s accomplishments.  The degree to which reality inconveniences Trump—and more importantly, how much Trump’s efforts to shove reality aside damage U.S. interests—vary from issue to issue.

Why Religious Policies in Israel Matter to U.S. Gentiles

In recent weeks, the Israeli government has taken measures that have exacerbated tensions within world Jewry.  Each measure has reflected the political power of ultra-Orthodox parties within the ruling coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  One of the government’s moves was to suspend a plan to provide space for non-Orthodox men and women to pray together at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.  Currently the main prayer plaza at this holy site is run in accordanc

Tillerson's Frustrations

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will stay in his job no more than two years, maximum.  He is an honorable man who came to Washington with a patriotic sense of wanting to do something on behalf of his country.  There is no reason to expect that he will be caught up in sleaze found elsewhere in the administration.  His previous career demonstrated he has management and leadership ability, while giving him much experience in conducting business overseas.  But the frustrations of his current position will be too much for him to bear for very long. 

The Plummeting of U.S. Standing in the World

The Pew Research Center released last week the results of one of its periodic surveys of global views of the United States and its leadership and policies.  More than 40,000 people were polled in 37 countries across six continents, with the polling conducted between February and May.  The most salient finding is a dramatic drop in confidence in the United States and more specifically in the current U.S. leadership.  When asked about “confidence in the U.S.

The Growing Danger of War With Iran

A combination of circumstances has increased the risk that armed conflict will break out between the United States and Iran.  Such a war is no certainty, but the chance that one will occur is greater today than it has been in years.  Some of the relevant circumstances, such as the first two mentioned below, have been around in some form for a substantial amount of time, while others are more recent.

Echoes in Syria of Afghanistan in the 1990s

The battle for Raqqa is now being waged, and the diverse forces that have been helping to extinguish the self-proclaimed caliphate of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) soon must face squarely what becomes of the portion of Syria that ISIS had controlled.  It may be useful to recall an earlier and somewhat similar situation in which the defeat of a common enemy led not to peace and stability but instead to fighting among the victors.  This occurred some two decades ago in another land in which, like Syria, the United States struggles to formulate a strategy: Afghanistan.

Instability and Salman's Nepotistic Power Play

A foreign country may be a problematic partner for the United States for two basic types of reasons, both of which apply to Saudi Arabia.  First, the partner’s foreign policies may range from misguided to immoral, or risk sucking the United States into conflicts in which it is not, or should not be, a party.  Saudi Arabia’s calamitous war in Yemen is currently the leading example of this sort of problem.  More recently has come the economic and diplomatic offensive against Qatar, which threw a wrench into the Trump administration’s aspirations regarding regional security, and in response to

Troop Levels Are Too Important to be Left to the Generals

The comment of Georges Clemenceau, premier of France during World War I, that war is too important to be left to the generals was a sage observation even amid the total war in which his nation was then engaged.  The importance of maintaining a strong sense of political purpose and political control can be appreciated by contrasting Clemenceau’s France with what was happening in Germany.  There, General Erich Ludendorff, who held the title of quartermaster general, functioned during the last year of the war as almost a military dictator of Germany, with his influence extending to domestic an