U.S. Army 1st Lt. Andrew Dacey reviews security checkpoints with Iraqi soldiers in the city of Abu Ghraib, Iraq, March 31, 2009 (U.S. Army photo).

Soon after the George W. Bush administration toppled Saddam Hussein, it became clear that Iraq was headed for a bitter conflict driven by Saddam’s politicization of sectarian and ethnic divisions and the lingering pathologies of his parasitic dictatorship. Thus, for the U.S., getting out of Iraq required the rebuilding of an Iraqi army that could maintain internal security. The U.S. military embraced this challenge, lavishing money and effort to create a new Iraqi army designed for the sort of effectiveness and apolitical professionalism that characterizes America’s armed forces. The raw material that U.S. military advisers and trainers had to work […]

Houthi Shiite rebels ride in a pickup truck at the compound of the army’s First Armored Division, after taking it over, Sanaa, Yemen, Sept. 22, 2014 (AP photo by Hani Mohammed).

It is still too soon to know what the Sept. 21 takeover of Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, by a group known as the Houthis will mean for the country’s future and its internationally backed political transition. But in a matter of days, the Houthis have redrawn Yemen’s political map far more radically than the 2011 uprising that led to the ouster of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh after 33 years in power. So quickly did the Houthis rout tribal and Sunni Islamist militias and a military unit loyal to one of their fiercest rivals before signing a peace deal on extremely […]

Rwandan President Paul Kagame speaking at the London Summit on Family Planning, July 11, 2012 (U.K. Department for International Development photo).

Last month, three high-ranking Rwandan military figures close to President Paul Kagame were arrested and charged with so-called crimes against state security. The military purges have fueled fears of a political crisis for Kagame with dissension among the ranks of his party and backers in the army. Although officers have been arrested in the past and former Kagame supporters have fled the country and openly opposed him, last month’s detentions reveal growing insecurity within the regime, particularly when viewed in conjunction with a crackdown on other internal suspects of what the government considers “subversion.” Kagame’s Tutsi-dominated regime, which came to […]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Warsaw, Poland, June 4, 2014 (State Department photo).

Before it recessed to focus on the midterm election campaign, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted on draft legislation that would recognize Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova as “non-NATO allies” of the United States. Indeed, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s government had made such a request of Washington earlier this summer, although U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration declined to act on this matter, much to the disappointment of some Ukrainians and their supporters in Congress. Assuming that the legislation passes the full Senate and is also adopted by the House, it is highly unlikely that Obama would risk a veto of the […]

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Navy Jiangkai-class frigate Linyi moors alongside the Luhu-class destroyer Qingdao, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Sept. 6, 2013 (U.S. Navy photo by Daniel Barker).

This month, the heads of the world’s navies and coast guards converged on the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, for the International Seapower Symposium (ISS). ISS assembles distinguished international naval leaders to enhance common bonds of friendship and to discuss challenges and opportunities, this time under the theme of “Global Solutions to Common Maritime Challenges.” This was the 21st iteration of ISS, which was first held in 1969. It was the first with Chinese attendance. After years of invitations that Beijing did not accept, coupled with last year’s cancellation of the event due to sequestration, the head of […]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses with his Arab counterparts after a meeting with them in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Sept. 11, 2014 (AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski, Pool).

In a Sept. 13 speech, President Barack Obama unveiled his strategy for dealing with the Islamic State group. “We will degrade and ultimately destroy” it, Obama said, “through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.” The strategy he outlined in the speech includes three components: U.S. airstrikes; increased support for militias and national militaries directly fighting the Islamic State group; and efforts to prevent the group from undertaking terrorist attacks against the U.S. or other nations. As always, Obama was careful, cautious and restrained, seeking an indirect and supporting role rather than the leading one. He ruled out large-scale American involvement […]

South Korean army soldiers patrol along the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in Cheorwon, South Korea, May 13, 2014 (AP photo by Lim Byung-shik).

Thanks to its comprehensive democratization and its “Miracle on the Han,” which transformed the Republic of Korea into a developed country, South Korea has realized its aspirations to become a major international player. Nonetheless, the persistent threat from a perennially belligerent North Korea, along with the challenge of having three of the world’s most powerful countries as neighbors, continues to constrain South Korea’s global opportunities. Foreign Policy Although South Korean foreign policy cannot ignore its northern neighbor, the absence of any real movement in bilateral ties has meant that Seoul’s relations with Washington, Beijing and Tokyo have seen the most […]

French President Francois Hollande and Iraqi President Fouad Massoum during the opening of a conference on strategy against the Islamic State group, Paris, Sept. 15, 2014 (AP photo by Brendan Smialowski).

Much of the discussion around the strategy unveiled this past week by President Barack Obama to combat the Islamic State has focused on whether or not the administration will be able to successfully forge a “core coalition” of states to participate in the fight, and whether that grouping will be substantive or a largely ceremonial equivalent of the “coalition of the willing” assembled by George W. Bush prior to the invasion of Iraq. But the main proposition is largely accepted as a given: The United States can supply air power, intelligence assets and even training and equipment, but other coalition […]

Spanish Marine Sgt. Cole Mulbah Ruiz watches as members of Cameroonian Rapid Intervention Battalion practice their marksmanships skills, April 6, 2009 (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Elsa Portillo).

As Boko Haram increasingly devastates northeastern Nigeria and crosses into Nigeria’s neighbors, Cameroon has attracted more international attention, both positive and negative. The International Crisis Group recently wrote that “Cameroon’s apparent stability and recent government reforms can no longer hide its vulnerabilities.” The report assesses the political risks of President Paul Biya’s apparent desire to remain in power indefinitely, despite his advanced age and lack of a clear succession plan. Alongside these medium-term risks are two short-term problems that deserve special scrutiny: the potential for destructive escalation in Cameroon’s fight with Boko Haram and the ambiguous effects of an aggressive […]

A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter stands guard atop an armored vehicle at a combat outpost on the outskirts of Makhmour, Sept. 6, 2014 (AP photo by Marko Drobnjakovic).

IRBIL, Iraq—As the United States is moving to broaden its war against militants of the so-called Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), perhaps its most important ally is the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of northern Iraq. The reasons are clear: In a region where states have either imploded or where stability flows largely from dynastic rule, the KRG is stable, its politics are in the main moderate and pro-Western and it holds regular elections. Yet the KRG has its own strategic agenda, some of which is potentially problematic. And under its democratic facade, […]

A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter takes his position behind dirt barriers built along the front line with militants from the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State, Mariam Bek village, Iraq, June 30, 2014 (AP photo by Hussein Malla).

Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces, armed and trained by NATO countries and backed by U.S. air support, form the vanguard of the international coalition’s ground operations in Iraq against the militants of the so-called Islamic State. But the Western support comes amid growing concern that the Kurds could use these arms and newly gained military know-how to secede from Iraq by force and form an independent Kurdish state once the Islamic State—also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)—is defeated. NATO countries have explicitly conditioned their military support on the Kurds remaining in Iraq and cooperating with the […]

Former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili makes a speech during Yulia Tymoshenko's party congress in Kiev, Ukraine, March 29, 2014 (AP photo by Efrem Lukatsky).

Last month, Georgian prosecutors filed charges against former President Mikheil Saakashvili for misallocating public funds while in office. These were only the latest in a series of allegations against Saakashvili this summer, including the charges that the former president exceeded his authority in cracking down on a mass demonstration and ordering the police to raid a TV station in 2007. Saakashvili—who in recent months has steered clear of Georgia—has accused the government, led by the Georgian Dream party that defeated his United National Movement at the polls in 2012, of political motives. The U.S. State Department has voiced concern over […]

President Barack Obama addresses the nation from the Cross Hall in the White House in Washington, Sept. 10, 2014 (AP photo by Saul Loeb).

Scholars and pundits have built careers writing about the national security legacy of American presidents. How they do so is important, because every president’s perceived legacy influences candidates and elected leaders who come later. Take, for instance, the consensus that Jimmy Carter’s national security policy was a failure. For years candidates and leaders have rejected any ideas or even rhetoric that seems “Carteresque.” By contrast, Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy is generally considered a success. Hence candidates and leaders since his time, particularly within the GOP, have modeled their national security positions on his. In a very real sense, presidential legacy […]

Russian sailors stand next to the Vladivostok warship in the port of Saint-Nazaire, western France, Sept. 5, 2014 (AP photo by David Vincent).

On Sept. 3, France announced that it would suspend the delivery to Russia of the Vladivostok, a multipurpose amphibious warship of the Mistral class, until at least late October, and that the delivery would take place only if the situation in Ukraine improved. The move comes after months of acrimony among France’s European Union and NATO allies over the sale, which French President Francois Hollande was loathe to cancel due to the economic implications of forfeiting the $1.6 billion contract. Hollande inherited the Mistral problem from his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, who entertained good personal relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. […]

Thai Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha prays in front on the spirit house for good luck, before a meeting in the preparation for his cabinet meeting at the Government house in Bangkok, Thailand, Sept. 9, 2014 (AP photo by Sakchai Lalit).

Shortly after Thailand’s military took power in a coup in May and proclaimed the ruling junta the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), its leader, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, said he wanted to “reform the political structure, economy and society.” At the time, the burning question was under what terms will this reform take place—and who gets to decide? Three months after the coup, the answer appears clear: Prayuth and the NCPO have supreme power over all political developments. The interim constitution adopted by the junta on July 22 has produced a 200-member National Legislative Assembly, all of its members […]

U.K. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, OSCE Chairperson Didier Burkhalter at the NATO summit in Wales, Sept. 5, 2014 (NATO photo).

Last week’s NATO summit in Wales was a mixed bag, with the alliance marking strong progress on some fronts but proving less successful on others. Nevertheless, the fact that the summit took place under such heavy scrutiny highlights NATO’s resurgence from an alliance that many in recent years claimed had lost its relevance in meeting Europe’s security challenges. The summit’s immediate focus was on reaffirming alliance solidarity against Russian aggression. President Barack Obama’s major speech in Estonia shortly before the summit helped set the stage by making clear that the United States was committed to the defense of that country, […]

Army personnel outside the military headquarters in Maseru, Lesotho, Aug. 31, 2014 photo (AP photo).

South African President Jacob Zuma visited Lesotho today to try to resolve a political crisis now in its second week. On Aug. 30, Lesotho’s Prime Minister Thomas Thabane fled to South Africa—which entirely surrounds his small, mountainous country—claiming to have escaped an attempted military coup. Thabane has since returned to the capital of Maseru, where, at his request, he is under the protection of a South African civilian police force. Meanwhile, an insurgency drawn from Lesotho’s elite Special Forces Unit, led by the ousted armed forces chief Lt. Gen. Tlali Kamoli, has raided state armories and taken to the hills. […]

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