U.S. soldiers sit in a C-17 aircraft at Sather Air Base in Baghdad as they begin their journey home after a year in Iraq, Nov. 30, 2010 (AP photo by Maya Alleruzzo).

If Washington is as committed as ever to its historical role as security guarantor in the Middle East, why do U.S. officials feel compelled to constantly reassure their regional partners that the U.S. isn’t pulling back from the region? The question speaks to the disconnect between Washington’s strategic interests in the Middle East and the priorities of its regional partners. It also reflects the difficulty U.S. policymakers face in seeking to exert influence in a region beset by poor governance and a multiplicity of state, nonstate and hybrid actors.  But it also reflects a paradox at the heart of U.S. […]

President Joe Biden prepares to board Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., June 9, 2021 (AP photo by Patrick Semansky).

Editor’s Note: Guest columnist Mel Pavlik is filling in for Candace Rondeaux. The week before Sudan’s military leader, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, arrested his country’s prime minister and seized power in a coup d’etat, U.S. President Joe Biden finalized the invitation list for his upcoming Summit for Democracy. The summit, claimed administration officials, aimed to counterbalance powerful autocracies such as Russia and China, and “galvanize democratic renewal worldwide.”  The world is a far cry from anything resembling democratic renewal. To the contrary, democracy is threatened on multiple fronts: not only by illegal seizures of power by military strongmen, as in Sudan, […]

Polish soldiers sit on an army vehicle as they drive past a checkpoint close to the border with Belarus in Kuznica, Poland, Nov. 16, 2021 (AP photo by Matthias Schrader).

There is cautious optimism in Brussels that the temperature seems to be dialing down on the crises with Belarus and Russia on the EU’s eastern border, as Minsk takes a step back in its long-running border standoff with Warsaw and Moscow has not yet made any military incursion into Ukraine, despite once again massing troops on the border. But there is also a feeling in Brussels and across the continent that the events of the past few weeks are a harbinger of dark days ahead. EU defense ministers met Tuesday to discuss both the “hybrid warfare” by Belarus at the […]

A military band performs during the Spasskaya Tower International Military Music Festival in Red Square, Moscow, Aug. 31, 2021 (AP photo by Pavel Golovkin).

Russian President Vladimir Putin is often said to be “playing a weak hand well.” But according to Kathryn Stoner, a Russia expert at Stanford University, this conventional analysis is incomplete. She argues that not only does Moscow hold better cards than many Western observers might think, it is also more willing to play them, even the risky ones. On the Trend Lines podcast this week, Stoner sat down with WPR’s Elliot Waldman to discuss her recently published book, “Russia Resurrected: Its Power and Purpose in a New Global Order.” Listen to the full conversation here: If you like what you […]

Palestinian security forces participate in a drill at the International Police Training Center in al-Muwaqqar, Jordan, a country that receives U.S. support for key counterterrorism training programs, Mar. 17, 2018 (AP photo by Raad Adayleh).

In May of this year, thousands of Colombian citizens took part in weeks of widespread protests against a newly proposed tax reform plan and, more generally, the country's growing economic inequality. The demonstrators included teachers, doctors, students and labor union members, as well as many who were new to protesting. But instead of allowing them to peacefully express their opinions, the Colombian National Police cracked down, killing at least 24 people in clashes that resembled their fights against criminal organizations and insurgents.  Of course, Colombia’s police are not unique in their heavy-handed approach to law enforcement. In 2019, police violence […]

An Afghan inspects the damage at the Ahmadi family house after a U.S. drone strike killed Zemari Ahmadi and nine other family members on Aug. 29, Kabul, Afghanistan (AP file photo by Bernat Armangue).

Last week, the U.S. Department of Defense released a one-page summary of its findings from an investigation into a drone strike in Kabul that killed a family of 10 during the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. U.S. military officials had received intelligence that a specific car had visited a “suspected” Islamic State safehouse and loaded what “appeared to be” explosives into its trunk.  After the vehicle was destroyed with explosives in the driveway of the house, it was determined that the driver was actually Zemari Ahmadi, an electrical engineer who worked for a U.S. aid organization. Ahmadi was killed in the […]

Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh speaks during the 39th ASEAN summit held virtually, in Hanoi, Vietnam, Oct. 26, 2021 (VNA photo by Duong Van Giang via AP).

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne concluded a four-day tour of Southeast Asia this week, visiting Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia. The trip was widely seen as an effort by the Australian government to allay concerns in some nearby countries over the recently announced AUKUS defense pact, which calls for Australia to deploy nuclear-propelled submarines with assistance from the United States and United Kingdom. On the Trend Lines podcast this week, Susannah Patton, a research fellow in the Foreign Policy and Defense Program at the University of Sydney’s United States Studies Center, joined WPR’s Elliot Waldman to talk about the wide […]

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, left, meets with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Nov. 8, 2021 (National Television of Cambodia photo via AP Images).

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne is finishing up a four-nation tour of Southeast Asia this week, having begun her trip in Malaysia before moving on to Cambodia, Vietnam and finally Indonesia. A main goal of the visit is to conduct follow-up talks after Canberra agreed in late October on a new “comprehensive strategic partnership” with the main regional bloc, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Another prominent item on Payne’s agenda is to seek understanding from ASEAN members for Australia’s three-way defense partnership with the U.S. and the U.K., which was just announced in September. Known as AUKUS, the pact […]

U.S. President Joe Biden, center, speaks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during a plenary session at a NATO summit in Brussels, June 14, 2021 (AP photo by Olivier Matthys).

Tensions within NATO over the past two decades have led some to assert that the old military alliances of the 20th century are a thing of the past. Soon, the argument goes, they will give way to looser, ad hoc groupings like the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, comprising Australia, India, Japan and the United States; the AUKUS security pact among Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States; or other “coalitions of the willing” formed to address specific concerns, like those that intervened in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. To be sure, the past 30 years have punched some […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, left, attend an official welcome ceremony in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Oct. 15, 2019 (AP photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko).

In a little more than a month, on Dec. 24, Libyan voters will go to the polls to elect a new president, and after a decadelong civil war it is probably stating the obvious to say that they face tough choices. Among the candidates they can vote for are Gen. Khalifa Haftar, an accused war criminal backed by Russia and the United Arab Emirates, and Saif Gadhafi, the son of a murdered dictator and an accused war criminal himself, who has also been courted by Russia and the UAE.  The other three presidential candidates all have foreign backers of their own, including the U.S., […]