Paul Pillar

Netanyahu's Priorities and U.S. Responses

Recently I wrote about the two-sided Saudi policy on Iran, in which Riyadh sees good reason to take quiet steps to reduce tension with its neighbor across the Persian Gulf while still making alarm about a supposed Iranian threat the basis for keeping the United States tied to its side.  But Saudi Arabia (along with its partners in the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain) is not the only party in the region to exploit an anti-Iran theme as a basis for retaining U.S.

Why the Adults are Not Reining in Trump

Optimism has repeatedly been expressed, especially after any qualified and respected person has been appointed to a senior position in the current administration, that the “adults in the room” will check the excesses and compensate for the deficiencies of a blatantly unqualified president.  Hope placed on the four-star shoulders of John Kelly as he assumed duties of White House chief of staff is a recent example.

Hezbollah and the Simplistic School of Counterterrorism

Last month President Trump made a joint appearance at the White House with a visiting head of government, during which Trump spoke of the visitor’s country being “on the front lines in the fight against” an organization that is part of that same country’s governing coalition.  The visitor was Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the organization was Hezbollah.  Members of Hezbollah are ministers in Hariri’s cabinet.  Hezbollah has the fourth largest b

The Persistence of Falsehoods About the Iran Nuclear Agreement

The biggest current threat to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the agreement that limits Iran’s nuclear program, comes from Donald Trump’s obsession with killing the accord.  That obsession is driven by his impulse to undo whatever Barack Obama did and to fulfill campaign rhetoric based on such contrarianism.  The power of that impulse should not be underestimated, no matter how much it collides with truth, reason, and the best interests of the United States.  Trump has demonstrated parallel obsessions in pulling out of the Paris climate change agreement in the face of an ove

Sanctions as Feckless Disapproval

The recent bill imposing sanctions on Russia, Iran, and North Korea, which President Trump is signing in the face of veto-proof majorities by which Congress passed the measure, partly reflects the peculiar relationships Trump has with both Russia and Congress.  But the bill is consistent with, and puts in stark relief, a larger problem of Congress habitually using economic sanctions against foreign states as an expression of disapproval that is poorly designed to achieve any U.S.

Implications of a Siberian Candidate

The dribbling out of revelations, many of which contradict previous denials, about dealings with Russia of Donald Trump, his family, and his associates, has increased the plausibility of the more sinister possible explanations of what this affair is all about.  This has been especially true since revelations of the meeting last year in which Trump’s son, son-in-law, and campaign chairman met with Russian representatives with the intention and expectation of receiving dirt on Hillar

Iran and the Collision between Trump and Reality

Donald Trump’s disdain for the truth does not prevent reality from repeatedly bumping up against his policies, the most consistent theme of which has been to try to destroy his predecessor’s accomplishments.  The degree to which reality inconveniences Trump—and more importantly, how much Trump’s efforts to shove reality aside damage U.S. interests—vary from issue to issue.

Why Religious Policies in Israel Matter to U.S. Gentiles

In recent weeks, the Israeli government has taken measures that have exacerbated tensions within world Jewry.  Each measure has reflected the political power of ultra-Orthodox parties within the ruling coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  One of the government’s moves was to suspend a plan to provide space for non-Orthodox men and women to pray together at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.  Currently the main prayer plaza at this holy site is run in accordanc

Tillerson's Frustrations

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will stay in his job no more than two years, maximum.  He is an honorable man who came to Washington with a patriotic sense of wanting to do something on behalf of his country.  There is no reason to expect that he will be caught up in sleaze found elsewhere in the administration.  His previous career demonstrated he has management and leadership ability, while giving him much experience in conducting business overseas.  But the frustrations of his current position will be too much for him to bear for very long.