Paul Pillar

Terrorism in Colorado and Paris

The lethal armed attack by a troublesome drifter against a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs brings to mind two insufficiently recognized patterns about political violence and specifically terrorism, and how such violence tends to get treated in public debate and public policy. One concerns the politicization and inconsistency with which such violence is or is not actively countered and not just verbally condemned, and often with which the T-word is applied at all.

American Nativism and the Newest Surge in Xenophobia

A couple of days ago President Obama made an appropriate refinement to how he describes the discriminatory and xenophobic tendencies that have become all too obvious in debate and posturing in the United States on issues related to Syria, ISIS, the Paris attacks, and refugees. A week earlier at a press conference in Turkey, in expressing dismay at how “those who have taken on leadership” in the party of George W. Bush ignore how Mr.

The Amateurish Attacks in Paris

A strong tendency in the wake of major terrorist attacks is to associate the impact the event has on our own fears and thoughts (which generally are correlated with the number of Westerners who died in the incident) with the level of skill and sophistication of the attackers. The skill and sophistication in turn tend to be thought of as associated with the size and strength of some foreign organization that sponsored the attackers.

The Folly of an Expanded U.S. War in Syria

President Obama has repeatedly made adjustments to what he probably considered privately to have been the best U.S. policy toward armed conflicts overseas, as he has had to cope with the pressures from public discourse in Washington, to count his available political capital, and to decide which political battles to fight at home while also deciding which military battles the United States should fight abroad. He has adjusted too much in the view of some of his critics on the left, who have not been happy about the extension of the U.S.

The Paris Attacks and the Demand for Action

As usual after a terrorist event as salient and jarring as the attacks in Paris, instant analysis and exhortation have gotten well ahead of the availability of information about the genesis of the attacks. A claim statement, a general pronouncement by the French president, and the few investigative tidbits that have become public so far are not nearly enough to reach sound conclusions about exactly where and how this operation was conceived, prepared, and directed, and thus what the most appropriate policy responses to it will be.

The Gulf Arabs Slip Out of Dodge

With little notice and no fanfare, although the New York Times mentioned it the other day, the Gulf Arab states have withdrawn from significant participation in the war in Syria. This move involves in particular the air forces of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. These are some of the same Arab governments that screamed long and loud about the need to do more in Syria.

Why the U.S. Should Pay Attention to the Plane Crash in the Sinai

As usual after incidents comparable to the crash of the Russian airliner in the Sinai, interpretations and theories have gotten ahead of facts and investigations. Amid the widespread assumption that a bomb downed the aircraft—which may well have been the case—we might remember TWA Flight 800, which exploded off Long Island shortly after taking off from New York City in 1996.

Acknowledging Reality in the U.S.-Israeli Relationship

On the eve of a visit by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington, we have gotten yet another of the statements from members of his government that are sufficiently unrestrained or unhinged to cause a flap both in the United States and Israel. While Netanyahu's own comment about the Holocaust being a Palestinian idea is still fresh in our minds, the latest ear-catching remarks come from Ran Baratz, an inhabitant of a West Bank settlement whom Netanyahu has chosen to be chief of hasbara, the selling of Israeli policies overseas.

The Campaign for a High and Frustrating Office

When Winston Churchill made his remark about democracy being the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried, the positive side of what he was saying about democracy had as background the Westminster system with which he was familiar and that has served Britain fairly well. As we contrast that system with the current U.S. presidential campaign, the latter exhibits some characteristics that might have led Churchill to conclude that some of those other forms of government could stack up fairly well.

Exploiting Russia's Fear of ISIS

As multilateral talks begin in Vienna to search for a possible resolution of the Syrian civil war, we should realize that even when a foreign government is not being entirely above board in explaining what it is up to, it still may be honest in identifying part of what motivates it. The principal government in question regarding the Syrian situation is that of Russia, which has said a lot about beating back the so-called Islamic State or ISIS but whose military operations so far in Syria seem to be saying something else.

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