Paul Pillar

Turkey and the Twilight Zone in Syria

The conflict in Syria, complex even by the standard of civil wars, has not presented U.S. policymakers with anything close to a clear opportunity to weigh in on the side of good guys against bad ones. There have been too many bad guys on multiple sides of this war. The understanding that the United States reached last month with Turkey, according to which the latter evidently agreed to focus more on countering the so-called Islamic State or ISIS as distinct from its other objectives in Syria, would appear to have simplified a bit the lines of contention in the war from the U.S.

Iraq, Iran, and the President on Mindsets

President Obama's speech at American University was a thorough enough review of the issues that have come to surround the agreement to restrict Iran's nuclear program that any fair-minded listener who focuses on merits rather than politics would reach the conclusion, as Mr. Obama has, that completion of this agreement as being in U.S. interests was not a difficult decision or even close to being one.

John Bolton's Reverence for the United Nations

As implacable opponents of the nuclear agreement with Iran continue to scramble for any argument that has a chance of helping to shoot the deal down, a prize for originality ought to go to John Bolton for a new idea he tries out on us in an op ed today. The idea involves sanctions, and it involves the United Nations. Bolton got a recess appointment in the George W.

Alliance Flux in the Middle East

Some recent policy decisions by Middle Eastern governments have the potential to shake up regional alignments, or what are widely perceived to be alignments. In the near term this will have little to do with the Iran nuclear agreement, despite the attention the agreement is getting at the moment. That accord will not lead to realignments as great as its opponents fear, and its larger impact on regional diplomacy will be gradual and only slightly apparent in the near term.

The Sources of Opposition to the Iran Agreement

An air of unreality pervades much of the debate on the agreement to restrict Iran's nuclear program. Opponents of the agreement raise issue after issue on which the agreement is clearly superior to the alternative that would exist if the opponents succeed in getting the U.S. Congress to kill the deal, but the opponents keep raising such issues anyway. There is, for example, long discussion of the details of inspection arrangements and exactly how many days will elapse between when an accusation is made and when international inspectors could enter a facility.

Donald Trump and the American Attitude Toward National Service

The sheer outrageousness of some of Donald Trump's public utterances invites condemnation that is so justifiably quick and unqualified that it leads us to overlook respects in which what Trump says or stands for reflects larger patterns that many Americans do not condemn and may even support. There is a reason that Trump moved to the top of the polls of Republican primary voters, and the reason isn't his hair.

The Iran Agreement and the Meaning of Risk

The first few days of argumentation about the recently completed agreement to restrict Iran's nuclear program have taken predictable directions—predictable not only because the shape of the deal was known well before all the drafting was finished in Vienna but also because the principal opposition to the agreement has little or nothing to do with the terms and instead is opposition to any dealing with Iran.

The Iran Nuclear Agreement: The Choice

Completion of the agreement to restrict the Iranian nuclear program puts into sharp relief the choice for anyone who weighs in on the topic and especially for the U.S. Congress, which will have an opportunity to accept or reject the deal. Gone is any meaningful kibitzing on how well the negotiators are doing their jobs. Gone are endless speculative permutations of how different issues might be resolved. Gone is conjecturing about how the outline that was the framework agreement announced in April will be fleshed out with detailed terms.

The Heavy Historical Baggage of U.S. Policy Toward the Middle East

There is much to be said for what is commonly called a “zero-based review”—a fresh look at a problem or project unencumbered by existing assumptions and practices. Just about any organization or mission could benefit periodically from such an assessment, to make possible the removal of accumulated historical impedimenta. This is true of U.S. foreign policy, which exhibits far more continuity than is often assumed.

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