Paul Pillar

Emulate Russian Realism

Donald Trump seems eager to learn at the knee of Vladimir Putin.  During his Asian trip, Trump expressed his willingness to believe Putin’s denials about Russian interference in last year’s U.S. election, rather than the judgment of U.S. security agencies that there was indeed such interference.  He later only grudgingly backtracked, with the backtracking accompanied by a fusillade of invective against former U.S.

Saudi Arabia, Wellspring of Regional Instability

The anachronistic family enterprise known as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has long been politically fragile.  In some respects it is remarkable that this entity has endured into the twenty-first century.  A clan of royals lives on rake-offs from the country’s petroleum wealth, while using more of that wealth to buy off a fast-growing population.  The Saudis have had to continue playing that game through vicissitudes of the oil market, on which the Saudi economy depends.  The potential for breakdown has always been present.  Now a king and his favorite—and ambitious and inexperienced—son are

The New York Attack, Trump's Outbursts, and Misconceptions About Terrorism

Donald Trump’s tweets in response to the terrorist attack along a bike path in Manhattan demonstrated some of what we already knew all too well about Trump, but they also reflected more widely shared and counterproductive American ways of thinking about counterterrorism.  Among the Trumpian habits exhibited is the inclination to use any occasion, no matter how solemn or tragic, to excoriate or smear political opponents.  In this case, instead of expressing solidarity with all citizens of his native New York City, Trump assailed Senator Chuck Schumer for sponsorship of a 27-year-old visa pro

Palestinian Reconciliation, in the Hands of Israel

The latest attempt at reconciliation between the competing Palestinian parties Fatah and Hamas has produced a preliminary agreement that Egypt brokered and was announced earlier this month.  The reasons for movement on this subject at this time involve motivations of the Egyptians, who want to use improved relations with authorities in the Gaza Strip to help defeat extremists who are active in the Sinai Peninsula.  Egypt, which has taken the side of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in their dispute with Qatar, also hopes to reduce Qatari and Turkish influence among the Palest

Permanent Warfare as Normality

The newest issue of Foreign Affairs features the theme of “America’s Forgotten Wars”, with a cover illustration that juxtaposes a carefree scene of Americans enjoying a picnic with a scene of American soldiers fighting and incurring casualties in some sandy and desolate battle space.  The picture depicts truthfully the detachment between, on one hand, the daily interests and attitudes of most Americans and, on the other hand, the disturbing reality of the United States being engaged continuousl

Americans Wrote the Russians' Material

Russian interference in domestic American politics is a large and complicated story, full understanding of which is only beginning to be reached by the media and independent analysts.  Some of the lessons and implications of that story, especially as it relates to the 2016 election, can only follow completion of the relevant investigations.  But one aspect of the story need not await the official inquiries.  This aspect concerns how many of the accusations and themes that Russia promoted through social media merely

The Operational Code of President Trump

Press reports indicate that later this week President Trump will “decertify” the nuclear agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), relying on a clause in the relevant review legislation that permits the president to make such a declaration even if Iran is fully complying with the accord.  That Trump has decided on this course has nothing to do with the terms of the JCPOA, with Iran, or with Iranian actions; he has not advanced a convincing case, or even a coherent argument, as to how those considerations provide a reason to cashier an agreement that is working.  His

NMDB and the JCPOA

A major theme of those seeking to kill the Iran nuclear agreement, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is that Iran is doing lots of other things, especially in the Middle East, deemed undesirable.  Such rhetoric flows freely even though these other things are not covered by the JCPOA and are unrelated to the agreement.  Arguments based on this rhetoric are just as dishonest as many other arguments of opponents, whose motivations involve not the terms of the JCPOA but instead other reasons they want to kill this accord and to oppose any agreement, on any subject