Paul Pillar

The Terrorism Label

A recent op-ed from Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) calls for officially designating Russia a state sponsor of terrorism.  Gardner offers a long indictment—a “moral case”, as he calls it—against Russia that mostly involves activities other than terrorism, such as invasions of Georgia and Ukraine and information warfare against Western democracies.  Such a designation would have little practical effect; as Gardner himself acknowledges, the United States already has imposed diverse sanctions on Russia using

Non-Accomplishment in Syria

The missile strike against Syria in response to an alleged chemical attack has given many people a cathartic moment without having to produce any new and effective ideas about how to deal with the ugly conflict in Syria.  For President Trump, it was an opportunity to follow his guiding principle of doing something different from what Barack Obama did.  On policy toward Syria, he has struggled to find such opportunities.  For many customary critics of Trump, supporting the strike has been an opportunity to look tough on Syria and to avoid looking like reflexive oppositionists.  One might add

The Bolton-Pompeo Package

This week John Bolton assumes the job of national security adviser.  Given that a key function of that position is to ensure that the bureaucracy provides the relevant options and most accurate information to the president before major national security decisions, it is hard to think of anyone more ill-suited to that duty.  Bolton's method of policy formation has been to try to bully any part of the bureaucracy that does not subscribe to his personal agenda, and to try

Syria and Donald Trump's Impulses

Impending decisions about U.S. troops in Syria will be the next significant outcome of the continuing tussle, between a president’s urges and his appointees, that constitutes Donald Trump’s foreign policy.  Given Trump’s limited attention span and the erratic way in which he allows others to influence his decisions, however, policy on Syria will not necessarily reflect a larger pattern extending to other issues.

Gaza: The Open-Air Prison Seethes

Two recent pieces of news highlight, one indirectly and the other directly, the plight of inhabitants of the miserable patch known as the Gaza Strip.  The indirect report involves demographic data, based on official Israeli numbers that surfaced in a parliamentary inquiry, showing that in all the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, there are now about as many Arabs as Jews.  It has long been obvious that this point

Personal Information, Government, and the Not-So-Private Sector

The sudden attention to the exploitation, including for political purposes, of information on millions of Facebook users in ways that ought to make those users uncomfortable—and to how Facebook does not seem to have cared about such abuses—has been tardy and myopic even though the attention is fully justified.  It took the story about Cambridge Analytica’s mining of Facebook data to get that attention, even though the probability of such unwelcome exploitation of personal information has existed since the dawn of social media. 

The Iran Nuclear Agreement: Listen to the Voices of Experience

Donald Trump appears poised to make one of the most damaging moves yet of his presidency: to pull out of the multilateral agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), that severely restricts Iran’s nuclear program and closes all pathways to a possible Iranian nuclear weapon.  Iran is adhering—as inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency have repeatedly certified—to its obligations under the agreement.  Despite this record, Trump’s administration already has been violating U.S.

Saudi Fragility, and Why MbS Is No Ataturk

One of the more intriguing news reports about the rapid rise to power of the 32-year-old Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), concerns how he isolated his mother, placing her under house arrest for a time.  He kept her away from his father, the mentally declining King Salman, and devised phony explanations to the king as to why she was out of sight for so long.  MbS reportedly was worried that his mother might have opposed his power grab and in the interest of family uni