Paul Pillar

Afghanistan, Iraq, and Endless War

It probably was inevitable, as a matter of how Washington as a whole approaches such things these days, that President Obama would make his decision about keeping 5,500 troops in Afghanistan into 2017. There is too much of an expectation that when internal violence prevails in a country in which the United States has had as much past involvement as it has had in Afghanistan, the United States should have its military forces on the scene to try to do something about it, no matter how dim are the prospects for accomplishing much there.

Dominoes Falling in a Vacuum: The Hazards of Metaphors in Foreign Policy

Physical, spatial imagery has long been applied to discourse about U.S. foreign policy. During the earlier portion of the Cold War, for example, the image of oozing red paint as representing the advance of communism—somewhat like the “cover the earth” logo of the Sherwin-Williams paint company—was often used. An even more prevalent and influential physical metaphor during the Cold War was falling dominoes.

Echoes of Afghanistan in Syria

The Russian military intervention to shore up the Assad regime in Syria, coupled with the previously begun U.S.-led military intervention in the same country—amid uncertainty about U.S. war aims and a reluctance to part with the objective of ousting Assad—presents the specter of a proxy war between Russia and the United States. Before the specter gets any closer to becoming a reality, we should gain what insights we can from a country that hosted previous proxy warfare, that was the scene of military interventions by both Moscow and Washington, and that continues to be a problem for U.S.

Politics versus Policy: Follow-up to the Iran Nuclear Agreement

The Obama administration had to expend considerable political capital in fending off attempts, during the recent Congressional review period, to kill the agreement to restrict Iran's nuclear program. As a matter of policy toward that program, such expenditure should never have been necessary; the strict limitations and scrutiny of the program that are embodied in the agreement are clearly better for U.S. interests than the absence of such limitations and scrutiny if the agreement had been killed.

The Foreign Costs of Domestic Political Craziness

The U.S. political class and political system in effect grant a lot of leeway and a lot of tolerance to excesses of American politicians, including excesses exhibited during election campaigns. There is little consistency and almost no principle in determining which comments by candidates come to be considered as campaign-crippling gaffes and which do not. Much gets said that does not cripple a campaign but which a majority of decent Americans, if they carefully thought about it, would probably agree is unreasonable, untrue, mean, inflammatory, bigoted, or extreme.

The Pope, Markets, and Volkswagen

Anticipating this week's visit by Pope Francis, different political factions and interests in the United States have been hoping to hear words from the popular pontiff that are consistent with their own agendas. They also are poised to spin, or if necessary dismiss, any papal statements that are not particularly consistent with those agendas. One set of issues sure to be subject to such treatment concerns the environment.

Russian Involvement and a Redirection of Policy on Syria

The recently increased Russian involvement in Syria ought to be viewed as an opportunity, more so than as a threat or as something that needs to be countered. Although Moscow's current involvement is only an extension of its longtime relationship with the Syrian regime, it represents just enough of a change to serve as the closest thing we are likely to have to a peg on which to hang some needed rethinking about the Syrian conflict.

The Saudi Problem

Saudi King Salman visits Washington this week amid disagreement between the United States and Saudi Arabia on a broad range of issues. Moreover, the disagreements are rooted in fundamental characteristics of the anachronistic Saudi regime. Many regimes around the world, and the political and social systems of which they are a part, are markedly different from what is found in the United States, but the Saudi polity is one of the most different. The anachronism that is Saudi Arabia represents a major problem for U.S.

The Effort to Destroy the Iran Agreement: Chapter Two

Anyone tired of hearing about the agreement to restrict Iran's nuclear program is not going to get relief soon, despite the Congressional voting this month that is supposed to decide the matter. It now appears likely that even if the Republican-controlled Congress enacts a resolution of disapproval, any such resolution would not survive a presidential veto, which means the agreement itself will come into force.

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