In its spring issue, the venerable Washington Quarterly asked what has become a perennial question, and the central theme of “Under the Influence”: Is the United States entering an age of decline or renewal? But while everyone agrees on the question, it seems that no one can make up their minds on the answer. At first glance, recent events seem to point to the former, or decline. The financial crisis has not only hobbled the U.S. economy, but has discredited the free-market messages it has long propagated abroad. Years of war without decisive victory in Iraq and Afghanistan has added […]

On June 7, voters in tiny Lebanon will go to the polls. On the surface, the result of the parliamentary elections might seem to make almost no difference at all. But in the peculiar Middle East laboratory that is Lebanon, the outcome of the vote will represent a barometric reading for the entire region. In the end, it may ultimately have serious repercussions that reach beyond the byzantine mechanics of Lebanese politics. Some might consider the elections inconsequential, because the two main factions of Lebanese politics have essentially agreed to grant each other veto power over major decisions. The outcome […]

New York and Washington may be separated by only a few hundred miles, but in the last few weeks, they have appeared to be light years apart on arms control and nonproliferation issues. In New York, representatives of more than 100 countries worked from May 4-15 to prepare for next year’s nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference. Buoyed by U.S. President Barack Obama’s April pledge to seek a world free from nuclear weapons, their work was marked by a spirit of cooperation and compromise that had been noticeably absent during the eight years of the Bush administration. They approved an agenda […]

It would be nice to think that, when President Barack Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week, the U.S. leader had a long-term strategy for peacemaking: one that had emerged from months of careful analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by the government’s best minds. But though that thought would be nice, it would probably be wrong. There is, in fact, very little long-term strategic planning being performed at the highest levels of U.S. foreign policymaking. The office best known for strategic thinking — the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff — has plummeted in influence and prestige since […]

Two months ago, Turkey seemed on the verge of reaching a negotiated solution to its 30-year war with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) — a nationalist, leftist militant group based in northern Iraq and fighting for Kurdish self-determination, which has been labeled a terrorist group by the U.S. and the EU. The settlement — concocted in the corridors of power of Washington, Ankara, and Irbil — lay at the heart of U.S.-Turkish policy for a stable Iraq following the planned U.S. withdrawal in 2010. The stage was set, with Turkish President Abdullah Gül promising that “very good things” were about […]

When two sides emerge from a diplomatic encounter and both of them can claim to have achieved their goals, we can consider the meeting a success. We don’t know exactly what transpired at the White House on Monday, and short of reading the minds of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or of President Barack Obama, we have no way of knowing how they truly believe their meeting went. Still, there are signs that both sides feel they achieved their objectives. As I predicted, the media focused sharply on the tension over Netanyahu’s reluctance to openly embrace the two-state solution for […]

NEW DELHI — The unexpected landslide victory of the Congress Party in India’s general elections has unshackled the incoming government from the tricky task of managing its earlier coalition for political survival, especially the rabidly anti-American Left parties. There is little doubt that the team of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, all-powerful Congress party president Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi — who led the election campaign — will look to firm up some of their earlier aims, given the near-majority and stability that the party and its allies now command. In fact, the new government can no longer offer […]

Will President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court alter American foreign policy? It’s a question not many have bothered asking. Instead, the lion’s share of speculation about Obama’s pick has focused on the wealth of women candidates available and the hot-button domestic issues — like abortion, gay marriage and gun rights — likely to face the court in coming years. Obama himself explained early on that he is less interested in a candidate’s devotion to abstract legal theories and more in a justice who thinks about “[h]ow our laws affect the daily realities of people’s lives.” Finally, the Supreme […]

When President Barack Obama finally announced the location of his much-heralded speech to the Muslim world, the news came as a surprise. As a candidate, Obama had promised to give such an address during his first 100 days in office, as part of an urgent campaign to repair relations between the United States and Muslims. Observers wondered where Obama would go for the potentially historic occasion. Many believed the U.S. president would choose a democratic, Muslim-majority country for the event. Favorites included Jakarta, where Obama lived as a child. Turkey, a U.S. ally, also seemed like a good choice. Even […]

At a recent forum on U.S.-Saudi relations in Washington, D.C., current and former Saudi officials decried the previous U.S. administration’s Middle East policies. Yet in shunning the Shiite-dominated government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a regime they deem inimical to their interests, the Saudis — along with other Sunni Arab regimes — appear to have internalized the core foreign policy impulse of the Bush administration. This myopic approach has had the perverse effect of amplifying Iran’s already outsized influence in Iraq and throughout the region. It has also fueled Iraqi suspicions about the intentions of its Sunni Arab neighbors, […]

As the founders of the United States wrote in the Declaration of Independence, an effectively governed state that keeps order and fosters the well-being of its citizens is an essential means of guaranteeing basic human rights and civil liberties. It is also something that the Palestinians have been denied for too long now. The world seems to have delegated the decision of whether and when the Palestinians will have their own state to Israel. But negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel were already unlikely to lead to a viable Palestinian state before the election of Benjamin Netanyahu as Israeli prime […]

President Barack Obama didn’t look into Dimitry Medvedev’s eyes and claim that he saw the Russian president’s soul at the G-20 summit in early April. But the meeting between the two leaders has potentially set the stage for a more pragmatic relationship between Washington and Moscow. Substantial policy differences still separate the two powers, but the dynamics of the U.S.-Russia relationship have shifted away from the mutual bitterness that arose out of the August 2008 war in the Caucasus. However, although energy is not a major part of the public discourse on U.S.-Russian relations, it is a latent factor that […]

For years, analysts have argued that the Nabucco natural gas pipeline — a U.S.-backed effort to transport gas from the Caspian Sea to Europe via Turkey, thus bypassing Russia — needed to accept gas from Iran if it was to be economically viable. But Iranian involvement in the project, which is intended to reduce European energy dependence on Russian gas exports, has been anathema for U.S. policymakers: Washington’s efforts to thwart Iran’s ambitions have so far overridden its desire to thwart Russia’s. That may be changing. The White House has appointed a new envoy for Eurasian Energy, Richard Morningstar, who […]

‘Tis the season of snap judgments on President Obama’s first 100 days in office, replete with scorecards, grading sheets, and cartoon thumbs pointing up or down. The temptation with such analyses is simply to generate a laundry list of accomplishments, as if a crowded agenda or a flurry of decisions connotes successful leadership. Under normal circumstances, the key measure tends to be “traction,” as in, Did the new administration hit the ground running on issues A through Z? But these aren’t normal times. America and the world are experiencing the sort of once-in-a-lifetime restructuring of international affairs that only a […]

Throughout its history, America has experienced many kinds of bubbles. The 19th century brought us a railroad bubble, the 20th, an Internet bubble. Now, 100 days into a new presidency, America has replaced the housing bubble that opened the 21st century with an Obama bubble. But while bubbles usually convey negative connotations, the “Obama Bubble” is one that we in America — and the rest of the world — desperately need. When George W. Bush came into office, the United States was still perceived by most countries as an ascendant nation — one reviving the infrastructure of its post-World War […]

No president could restructure U.S. national security strategy in 100 days. It is possible to announce new strategic concepts and goals, and to make some time-urgent changes. In practice, however, it takes months to translate strategic concepts into detailed plans and budgets, and even the most urgent actions take time to implement. A major restructuring of U.S. procurement or military end strength can take several years to implement, and the same is true of any major reorganization of a key department and the interagency process. Changing America’s Image That said, having inherited one of the worst presidential legacies of the […]

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President Barack Obama entered office with such an inflated cloud of expectations hanging over his head that it is not surprising that some are criticizing him now for his “failures.” After a mere 100 or so days in office, why hasn’t he solved the global financial crisis, reversed global warming and brought peace to the Middle East? On the other hand, some of his partisans are wont to claim major foreign policy successes for the new administration because of the president’s personal popularity and the tumultuous acclaim he has received during his overseas visits. Yet during his first few months […]

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