When Barack Obama became the new U.S. president, one of the primary concerns for many observers was restoring America’s image in the eyes of the world. During the eight years of the Bush administration, the favorability ratings of the United States had declined dramatically. Nowhere was the U.S. image more negatively viewed than among publics in Muslim-majority countries. Anti-Americanism had intensified in the Arab world, and spread from Nigeria in West Africa to Indonesia in the Far East. Despite the administration’s vigorous efforts to win Muslim hearts and minds through innovative public diplomacy, when former president Bush left office, U.S. […]

Many of America’s actions in its post-9/11 campaign against al-Qaida have served to increase Muslim and Arab radicalism, rather than to dampen it as intended. The invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, the detainment of captured terrorists at Gitmo and subsequent revelations regarding the use of water boarding and other torture techniques all served to amplify negative perceptions of the United States in the Islamic world and facilitate the radicalization of potential recruits for the terrorists’ cause. But two recent developments have led many Americans to believe that al-Qaida and the threat it posed might be on the verge of […]

Photo: An Iraqi woman walks to the Rusafa polling station carrying an Iraqi flag, Dec. 15, 2005 (Defense Dept. photo by Jim Garamone).

The Iraq War will surely stand as the greatest of foreign policy mistakes — a failure, and a tragic one, as no shortage of commentators have called it. What makes it more tragic is that it needn’t have been so. Whether or not one was firmly against the war from the start, the verdict on Iraq will ultimately be characterized by an unusual mix of anger, ambivalence, and, perhaps most of all, confusion. From the beginning, Iraq wasn’t just about a war. It raised a series of questions that many of us still have trouble answering. If the war was […]

SLOPPY STAFF WORK — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton burst into raucous laughter when Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pointed out a translation error on the “Reset Button” she gave him as a joke gift. The joke was on her, however, and in private she was less good-natured about the sloppy staff work responsible for the error. For one thing, it started her off at something of a disadvantage, however slight, with her Russian counterpart. For another, it pointed up an unfavorable comparison with her predecessor: Russian-speaker Condi Rice would very probably have caught the error in time. Such snafus […]

The news coverage of the recent U.S.-China incident at sea is tendingtowards a reductionist take: portraying Chinese behavior mostly as an attemptto test the Obama administration. But the incident has more to do with a longstanding strategic chess match in the South China Sea that goes back at least to the 1990s, and that is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon. If the USNS Impeccable was loitering off the coast of Hainan, it was not by coincidence. The island is home to a Chinese naval base where a new class of nuclear-powered attack submarines is now stationed, providing easier access […]

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent visit to Jakarta underscores the importance that the Obama administration appears to attach to Asia and to the U.S. relationship with Indonesia. Indeed, a broad-based, mutually beneficial partnership between the United States and Indonesia can and should be one of the foundations of America’s 21st century Asia-Pacific strategy. But in shaping America’s future relationship with that key country, U.S. policymakers should avoid the miscalculations that previously anchored the United States’ engagement to Indonesia’s anti-democratic, military-dominated elites. Throughout the Suharto dictatorship and even after his fall, U.S. relations with Indonesia suffered from inadequate attention to […]

Will Russia supply Iran with the advanced S-300 surface-to-air missile system? That is the most important — and persistent — question regarding Russia’s ongoing arms sales to Iran. The repeated rumors and confusion regarding a possible sale indicate that Russian policymakers are divided over the issue. It also illustrates the degree of mistrust between the Russian and Iranian national security communities over the subject of bilateral arms transfers in general, and disagreement over the extent to which Moscow should support Iranian defense aspirations over American and Israeli objections in particular. The “S-300” family encompasses a range of specific models that […]

KAPISA PROVINCE, Afghanistan — Over scalding cups of tea in mid-February, an elder in Nijrab, Afghanistan said to me, “For two years you have come here and asked me the same questions. I like you, I like the French, but you people never learn.” He was referring to the generic questions Westerners ask Afghans: What is your life like? Where is the Taliban? What are your village’s needs? This particular elder has regular contact with American troops, and likes Americans enough to have tea with us. Nevertheless, he was deeply frustrated by the way, for all our questions, we never […]

Remember the age of globalization, if you can. The world was flat. High finance was king. Swelling economic prosperity had lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty. Capitalism, in a variety of configurations, stretched from one end of the earth to the other. Even individual states were fading in importance, and the threat of a great-power war had all but come to an end. How quickly that utopia has been shattered. In short, the world is very much round again. Investment banking has collapsed. The global financial crisis is elbowing the poor aside. Corruption and rampant irresponsibility have resulted in […]

Fearing U.S. Protectionism, ASEAN Pledges Unity

An Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit meeting concluded in Thailand on March 1 with a renewed consensus (.pdf) against protectionism and in support of free trade. In a rare moment of unity for the alliance’s 10 members, the ASEAN foreign ministers signed a free-trade agreement with Australia and New Zealand, while finance ministers of ASEAN Plus Three — China, Japan, and South Korea — expanded their emergency foreign currency fund from $80 billion to $120 billion. ASEAN’s anti-protectionist stance appears to be driven by concerns over exports to the United States, in light of President Barack Obama’s campaign promises […]

What are the two most pressing issues on the U.S. foreign policy agenda? Ask that question of 10 foreign policy mavens and nine will say Afghanistan and Iran. The other one will say Iran and Afghanistan. If the Obama administration manages to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan and find a (lasting) solution to the vexing problem of Iran’s nuclear ambitions over the next four years, it’s hard to imagine his first term won’t be deemed a smashing foreign policy success. It is against this background that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s meeting today in Geneva with Russian Foreign Minister […]

Something small but historic happened on the shores of the Red Sea on Monday. As delegates to the Palestinian donors’ conference in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh gathered for lunch, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moualem was standing near the door to the banquet room. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton walked by, and instead of staring straight ahead or finding a reason to turn in the opposite direction as an American diplomat might have done during the Bush era, she walked straight towards Moualem, shook his hand, and held a brief conversation. That was the moment when Washington […]

In response to a question about suspected Iraqi weapons of mass destruction seven years ago, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld famously said,”There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.” As tortuous as his formulation was, the notions he raised may be of some use putting recent developments regarding Iran’s uranium enrichment program in proper perspective. The activities that we know of, such as Iran’s uranium enrichment progress, are certainly of serious concern. But what will pose […]

The Washington foreign policy community has a hot new buzzword: “Af-Pak,” an amalgamation of Afghanistan and Pakistan meant to denote the ongoing “two-front war” that Islamist militants are currently waging in both countries. Perhaps it is fitting that one of the most impenetrable foreign policy challenges of our time is symbolized by yet another impenetrable acronym. Not content to leave the field to the Bush administration’s clunky and ill-defined “GWOT” — that is, the “Global War on Terror” — the Obama administration has apparently adopted “Af-Pak” (or its variants, “Afpak” and “AFPAK”) as the acronym that will define a significant […]

The war looks eerily familiar: beheadings, assassinations of police and public officials, terrorized businesspeople, extorted schoolteachers, and in five years more than 230 American civilians dead in the crossfire. All this could easily describe the battle in Afghanistan or Pakistan, but the reality is closer to home, where an increasingly gruesome and threatening war is threatening to boil over the United States’ southern border with Mexico. Summing up decades of policy, three former Latin American heads of state last week declared, “The war on drugs has failed.” Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, C├ęsar Gaviria of Colombia and Ernesto Zedillo of […]

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