Paul Pillar

The Exceptional But Fragile American Democracy

Efforts to export American-style liberal democracy to foreign lands have bumped up against the fact that the successful working of such democracy depends on habits and attitudes that are rarer than most Americans think and that take a long time to develop. That is a reality encountered in places such as Iraq. The relevant attitudes are not only hard to develop but also easy to lose. And that is a reality we must face at home in the United States.

The Itch to Escalate the Syrian Civil War

The complicated, multidimensional nature of the Syrian civil war continues to discourage clear thinking in debate about U.S. policy toward Syria. The involvement in the conflict of multiple protagonists who are each anathema to the American debaters but who are opposed to each other within Syria is a fundamental complication that too often gets ignored. Basic questions of what U.S. interests are in Syria too often get overlooked.

The War Candidates

A common observation about the role of foreign policy in the current presidential race is that Donald Trump's candidacy is profiting from a lack of appetite among much of the electorate for continued heavy and costly U.S. involvement in overseas conflict. With Trump having made some remarks that sound critical of that involvement, support for Trump gets interpreted as a rejection of establishment thinking on foreign involvement and of Hillary Clinton's hawkishness (insofar as foreign policy rather than domestic issues might be shaping any voters' sentiments).

The Costs and Consequences of Managing Rogue States

Many variables are involved in the messy predicaments in the Middle East, but one way of framing the history and issues of U.S. policy toward the region is in terms of the approaches that have been taken toward so-called rogue regimes. That term, one should hasten to add, obscures more than it enlightens. But it has been in general use for a long time. Take it as shorthand to refer to regimes that have come to be considered especially troublesome and are subjected to some degree of ostracism and punishment.

Democracy is Sustained in Turkey—Sort Of

Before this week it had come to be broadly accepted conventional wisdom that the days of Turkish military coups were over. After a post-World War II history in which the military had taken over the government about once every ten years, in the last couple of decades the return to the barracks appeared to be final. One of the most successful and powerful civilian politicians that modern Turkey has produced, current president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, seemed to have stared down the generals enough to keep them out of politics.

Interpreting Terrorist Waves

A certain litany of comments and even vocabulary seems to be required after terrorist incidents. High-casualty attacks are “horrific,” certain methods of attack are said to be the “hallmark” of certain groups, and so forth. And with any set of incidents occurring within a short time, explanations are offered that assume a connection among the incidents, especially in terms of a presumed careful strategy being executed by a particular group.

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