In examining possible approaches to Iran policy in my last several columns, I concluded that “focusing on deterrence in the short run while increasing efforts to promote regime modification — by internal means — over the long haul” might end up being the most effective one. Some of the feedback I received suggested that I was being too pessimistic about current efforts to bring about a new round of punitive sanctions on Iran, and that there were signs that even Russia and China were moving closer to the U.S. position. Those hopes received a serious setback on Thursday, when Russia […]

If you want to get an early read on the ultimate success or failure of the Obama administration’s policies for the Middle East, keep an eye on Syria. From the earliest days of the administration, even before it assumed power, its planned strategy for dealing with a number of conflicts in the region has included changing Syria’s behavior. After all, Damascus has not only complicated life for U.S. forces in Iraq, it has also proven over the years to be an important ally of the Iranian regime and a key partner of radical militant organizations in Lebanon and Gaza. Syria […]

On Feb. 16, following decades of disruption, Turkey and Iraq restored a rail link running from the northern Iraqi city of Mosul to Gaziantep in southern Turkey, via Syria. The move is a concrete illustration of Turkey’s increased efforts to develop commercial ties with Iraq, initiatives that Ankara has in turn used to establish a platform upon which it can deepen its diplomatic role and limit destabilizing spillover effects from its volatile neighbor. The strategy has paid off, as demonstrated by the recent visits to Ankara of a host of Iraqi political players — including ‘Ammar al-Hakim, Humam Hammoudi and […]

article card

Just when it looked like Russia and the United States were about to finalize the terms of a bilateral nuclear arms reduction agreement to replace the START I Treaty that expired last December, their longstanding bilateral missile defense dispute has exploded again. The latest crisis arose after the president of Romania, apparently for domestic political reasons, gratuitously revealed that his government would allow the United States to station ground-based interceptor missiles on Romanian territory. A week later, Bulgarian officials confirmed that they, too, were contemplating hosting U.S. missile interceptors, although no formal talks had begun. Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov […]

We Americans tend to have an overly inflated sense of our place in this world. If there is an enemy, we must defeat it. If a global challenge looms, we must lead the way forward. When somebody reaches for a weapon, we must strike before they can use it (against us, naturally). And should we fail to do so, we would be to blame for whatever tragedy might result. That’s not to say that our sense of global responsibility doesn’t have deep and logical roots. Armed with the world’s largest gun after World War II, we set about creating an […]

Pundits and politicians alike have been making a number of predictions of late about Iran’s future trajectory. To the extent that the scenarios they are outlining serve to justify the policy options they propose and endorse, it may be useful to step back and examine the logic that guides them. After all, many of the assumptions that drove our approach to Iraq policy in the run-up to our invasion of that country were based on intellectual quicksand that would not have stood up to closer scrutiny — among them, the idea that a post-Saddam Iraq would recognize Israel and become […]

There were no bright explosions lighting up the horizon, but this week’s coordinated deployment of U.S. diplomats as well as military, intelligence and political leaders — all warning of dire consequences for a defiant Iranian regime — amounted to an Obama-style re-enactment of the Shock and Awe tactics made famous during the opening salvo of the war in Iraq. The tactically synchronized detonations of tough talk were accompanied by a loud blast from Washington, where one administration official openly considered the possibility of regime change in Iran. But it was the Middle East that saw a swarm of high-ranking members […]

Throughout its first year in office, the Obama administration has completed numerous course corrections across the breadth of American foreign policy. Demonstrating the power of a much-needed apology, President Barack Obama’s new-look foreign policy was charming enough to earn him a Nobel Peace Prize. But it struck many observers as a change in style, not substance: Many of Obama’s “changes” merely extended or expanded upon those made during the last two years of the Bush administration, following the repudiation of the 2006 mid-term Congressional elections. Fair enough. But expecting anything more amid the worst global financial crisis in decades was […]

Whenever I ponder some of the challenges U.S. foreign policy faces today in Afghanistan, Somalia, or Yemen, I inevitably return to a passage in Bob Woodward’s “Veil,” describing how Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, after an attempt to assassinate him had failed, was persuaded to restrain his followers in Lebanon from launching attacks on U.S. interests: The Saudis approached him and asked whether . . . he would act as their early-warning system for terrorist attacks on Saudi and American facilities. They would pay $2 million cash. Fadlallah accepted, but said he wanted the payment in food, medicine and education expenses for […]

article card

When Iran announced this week that it would start enriching its uranium stockpiles to 20 percent — a level much closer to that needed for nuclear weapons production — it closed the first chapter in the history of the Obama administration’s foreign policy. That chapter has ended in failure. Now the administration’s push to get started on Chapter Two is already visible, presumably adopting a more muscular American posture to confront international challenges in Iran and beyond. In his first year, President Barack Obama tried a radically different approach from the confrontational policies practiced by his predecessor, George W. Bush. […]

TBILISI, Georgia — Former U.S. President George W. Bush has a highway named after him in Tbilisi, Georgia’s charming and gritty capital, to commemorate his lofty rhetoric in praise of the Caucasian republic’s Western turn in 2003. During Bush’s visit in 2005, the president even eschewed his famous early bedtime to dance the night away in the jubilant Georgian capital. Much has changed since 2005, though. When Russian tanks rolled into Georgian territory in August 2008, Bush chose not to rise to the defense of the West’s ally in the Caucasus. But that was just the beginning. From the indignity […]

Last week in Cape Town, South Africa, I was a keynote speaker at the massive Mining Indaba conference, the premier annual gathering of global extractive companies involved in Africa’s dominant economic sector. And the difference between the many military and aid conferences I’ve attended on Africa and this international commodities convention in Africa was telling. If you think most Americans now obsess over a “rising” China, you should know that we take a backseat to the Africans on this score. But whereas we often see China’s rise as a potential threat, Africans see it as an opportunity, and China’s “positive […]

“Iran engagement” is beginning to take on the attributes of kabuki theater, with all of the major participants engaging in pre-determined, stylized dance steps. The latest case in point is the announcement earlier this week by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Tehran is now open to some form of the scheme proposed by the International Atomic Energy Agency last October, by which Iran would export its low-enriched uranium to France and Russia to be turned into fuel rods for its research reactor. As Howard LaFranchi reported, this “was received favorably by Russia, and it prompted Chinese officials to call for […]

Last Friday, the U.S. Department of Defense announced the approval of a major arms sales package for Taiwan. The $6.4 billion deal includes 114 Patriot advanced capability (PAC-3) missiles, 60 Blackhawk helicopters, and two Osprey-class mine-hunting ships, among other items. The Obama administration is still considering Taiwan’s request for the F-16 C/Ds that it wants to replace some of its aging fighters. As it has in the past, Beijing quickly expressed its indignation through multiple channels. Foreign Ministry officials denounced the arms sales as interference in China’s internal affairs and China’s official media warned that the decision would “inevitably cast […]

While considerable disagreement exists on precise steps for creating a more stable Afghanistan, most key international policymakers now agree that any successful strategy there, and in Pakistan, hinges on the ability to mainstream anti-government fighters and potential fighters into the political and economic systems in those countries. That was reflected in the communiqué that emerged from last week’s London summit on Afghanistan, which called for, among other things, reintegrating Taliban who cut ties with al-Qaida and other extremist networks. But more attention needs to be given to the difficulties involved with such an approach, which will likely prove extremely challenging […]