Paul Pillar

Scandal and Foreign Policy: Keep Them Separate, but Don't Ignore Either

Among Washington’s biggest walking-while-chewing-gum challenges are those that involve trying to make policy soberly and carefully amid headline-grabbing scandal.  We have such a situation today, with the firing of the FBI director being the latest turn in the story of possible connections to Russia of Donald Trump, his entourage, and his election victory.  The problems include not only first-order ones of the media, members of Congress, and administration officials being highly distracted, and how the distraction can distort policy discourse on an important subject such as relations with R

Trump, Afghanistan, and Shades of the Tuesday Lunch

Impending choices by President Trump regarding the war in Afghanistan raise issues of national security decision-making in his presidency that in turn evoke pathologies of the past, with Trump’s personal habits threatening to make matters at least as bad as in the past.  Struggles for influence within the White House are part of the story—as Jacob Heilbrunn discusses in connection with differences over Afghanistan policy between Stephen Bannon and national security adviser H. R.

Palestine and the New Peacemakers

President Trump’s expressed desire to resolve, somehow, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is welcome, but the grounds for skepticism about this outweigh the reasons for hope.  The principal reason for skepticism is the lack of evidence that Trump has distanced himself politically from the position, embodied in the right-wing Israeli government and its most ardent American supporters, that favors perpetual Israel control of the occupied territories and, despite occasional lip service to the contrary, sees no room for Palestinian self-determination or a Palestinian state.  As a presidential ca

Truth-Killing as a Meta-Issue

Many of us have had more than our fill of the 100-day assessments of Donald Trump’s presidency.  Besides the arbitrary nature of this point on the calendar, and besides the sheer overload of the number of attempts at such a first-quarter report card, most of what gets put on such cards does not get at what is most important in evaluating any presidency.  Heavy emphasis gets placed on legislative acts.  Although an ability to work with Congress is one attribute we like to see in a president, it is only one and hardly the most important one.  Besides, the reasons for lack of legislative accom

Diverting Attention from the Tragedy of Palestine

The United Nations always has had, and rightfully so, a strong role in handling the conflict between Arabs and Jews over land in Palestine.  When the Ottoman Empire collapsed after World War I, Britain assumed administration of Palestine under a mandate from the League of Nations.  In the aftermath of World War II, when an overburdened Britain declared that it was ridding itself of the burden of Palestine, and with the League of Nations having died, it was appropriate that the successor international organization, the United Nations, would address the issue.  A special committee of the Unit

Destroying the Planet, and U.S. Leadership Along With It

With the wide path of destruction that Donald Trump has been cutting—in which the damage is affecting matters ranging from principles of nondiscrimination to ethical integrity of government officials to reliable health care for Americans—it is easy to lose sight of what ultimately would be the most consequential destruction of all: the damage to a habitable planet.  The consequences may not be as immediately apparent, during the first 100 days or even during four years, as some of the other carnage, but the importance to humanity is even greater.  As with many other Trump policies, it is no

Straining to be Anti-Iran

The Trump administration is bending over backward to be, and to sound, hostile and confrontational toward Iran.  This effort to flaunt a role for itself as a dedicated enemy of Iran has roots in the same factors that underlie the more widely established anti-Iranism in the United States, staying ahead of which is clearly an administration objective.  These factors include a troubled history highlighted for Americans by the hostage crisis of 1979-81.  They include pressure from intra-regional rivals of Iran—especially the Isr

Trump's Muddled Military Messaging

The Trump administration’s miscommunication about the whereabouts of a naval strike force that includes the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson underscores the emptiness of the administration’s tough-sounding but vague rhetoric about putting states “on notice” and ending eras of “patience”.  The episode with the Vinson—which was sailing south for an exercise with the Australians as the administration was suggesting publicly that it was sailing north toward Korea—will lead additional forei

Cuba Frozen in Time

A week-long visit to Cuba reveals a tropical country of 11 million people that is stuck in a kind of time capsule.  The anachronistic aspects of the country are symbolized by the 1950s-era U.S.-made automobiles that cruise city streets—and the resourcefulness of Cubans is symbolized by whatever they do to keep those old cars running. 

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