As a candidate, Barack Obama promised to withdraw from Iraq, “finish the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban,” shut down Gitmo and break through the impasse with Iran. But as president, Obama is learning that conducting U.S. foreign policy is far more difficult than simply critiquing it. As a consequence, on the central foreign policy and national security issue of the day — the global struggle against Islamic terrorists and their patrons and partners — there is far more common ground between Obama and former President George W. Bush than Obama’s supporters expected, and less change than his opponents feared. […]

President Barack Obama had multiple audiences in mind during his lightning 6-hour visit to Afghanistan this weekend. In both his meetings and his speech delivered to U.S. soldiers and broadcast worldwide, Obama wanted to catalyze improved Afghan government performance, reassure Afghan citizens, bolster U.S. troop morale, and make his commitment to winning the Afghan war clear to global audiences. For security reasons, Obama departed unannounced from Washington on Saturday night, arriving at Bagram airfield, on the outskirts of Kabul, early Sunday evening. He then flew by helicopter to meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Afterwards, Obama returned to Bagram to address […]

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Before U.S. President Barack Obama’s scheduled visit to Indonesia this week was postponed, expectations in both Washington and Jakarta were running at a fever pitch, especially in anticipation of the possible signing of a “Comprehensive Partnership” between the two countries. On one side, Washington is eager to strengthen relations with Southeast Asia’s largest democracy in the face of growing Chinese influence. The fact that Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim population also plays into the Obama administration’s efforts to further reach out to the Muslim world and improve its global standing. Finally, Indonesia’s geostrategic location […]

Some foreign policy analysts believe that President Barack Obama’s legislative victory on health care reform this week will have a positive impact on his ability to make progress in the foreign policy realm as well. Clearly, Obama’s credibility in the eyes of foreign governments would have been severely — perhaps even irreparably — damaged had he failed to pass the flagship legislation of his domestic agenda, despite overwhelming Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. But the White House is not out of the woods just yet. For the president to build on the momentum he gained from the health […]

As the first day of spring swept across the northern half of the globe, Iranians at home and abroad celebrated Nowruz, the Persian New Year. The ancient holiday’s traditions date back centuries, but new customs have started taking hold in more recent times. This year, amid profound internal divisions and growing international tensions, the Official Nowruz Greeting became a new vehicle for mobilization and an occasion to outline strikingly different visions of the past, the present, and the future of Iran. The Nowruz messages offered by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the country’s two top opposition leaders, and U.S. President Barack […]

The State Department is close to winding up the initial phase of a Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. Mandated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the QDDR aims at creating a more robust civilian capacity for U.S. global engagement. As part of that effort, the review’s fourth working group addresses the task of “building and deploying an effective civilian capacity to address crises, conflicts, and countries in transition.” The review provides a historic opportunity to strengthen the expeditionary capacity of civilian agencies to deal with overseas conflicts. In 2005, after bungling stabilization and reconstruction in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Bush […]

Despite genuine efforts at engaging Tehran, such as the Nowruz greetings issued by President Barack Obama this past Saturday and a similar Internet video released the previous year, the Obama administration has proven unable to resolve U.S. differences with the Iranian government over Iran’s nuclear program, regional security issues, or other disputes. Developments thus far do not portend any greater success this year. The decades of hostility and mistrust between Washington and Tehran made any bilateral reconciliation effort inevitably problematic. The unanticipated advent of a powerful mass movement in Iran seeking to change the regime’s policies — and, perhaps, the […]

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama famously declared that he was running for the nation’s highest office not simply to end the war in Iraq, but to change the mindset that got America involved in Iraq in the first place. More than a year into his presidency, he is discovering that such a seminal transformation is far easier said than done. From Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay to repairing America’s impaired global image, precious energy and political capital is being spent extricating America from the disastrous impact of the Bush administration’s stewardship of U.S. foreign policy. But as catastrophic as […]

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Partisanship is the lifeblood of democracy, but it also has harmful effects that can be especially damaging to foreign policy. Politicians are entrepreneurs seeking markets, so there is always someone willing to become the advocate of any position for which there is a constituency. Such behavior can be craven, but it guarantees that all elements of the citizenry will find their champions. “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition,” said the Founding Fathers, meaning that this competition within the government would prevent a concentration of power that could threaten the liberties of citizens. The founders distrusted parties, which they called […]

Domestic politics is driving U.S. grand strategy. Although this phenomenon is poorly understood by both academic international relations scholars and the Washington foreign policy elite (FPE), it has important implications for the prospect of changing U.S. grand strategy, and therefore should be of interest to both groups. The Gulf between the Academy and the Beltway No one disputes that there is a rift between those who study international relations in the academy and those who make U.S. foreign policy. Most examinations of this disconnect center on: a) whether academics are asking policy-relevant questions; and, b) whether the theories and methodologies […]

One of the most troubling features of the environment in Washington these days is the inability to make tough strategic choices. This is particularly apparent when foreign policy objectives conflict with domestic political priorities: Because the two policy areas are usually compartmentalized, our diplomats don’t have much leverage to negotiate and bargain with other governments. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent trip to Brazil, where she unsuccessfully sought to enlist support on the question of Iran sanctions, is a case in point. There are a number of issues currently causing friction in the bilateral U.S.-Brazil relationship. One is our continued […]

Does President Barack Obama harbor anti-Israel sentiments? The question has gnawed at supporters of Israel in and out of the Jewish state ever since then-Sen. Obama became a credible presidential candidate. The fears were exploited during the campaign by Obama’s political opponents, who unleashed an e-mail barrage of rumors falsely claiming that Obama was a secret Muslim. Those rumors have been snuffed out, but concerns about Obama’s true feelings towards Israel persist. The questions have gained currency in the midst of the crisis sparked by Israel’s announcement of new housing construction in a disputed part of Jerusalem, made during last […]

The United States is entering negotiations this week to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (.pdf), a relatively unknown trade agreement that includes Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, and Singapore. The pact is perhaps humble in its origins, with the population of its largest member — Chile — less than 16 million at the time of its inception in 2005, and the group’s share of global GDP minute. But the TPP has quietly gained momentum over recent years and may come to serve as a free trade zone that incorporates large parts of both sides of the Pacific. In addition to the United […]

A recent report issued by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs highlights an enduring but growing mismatch between how America conducts its foreign policy and how the world beyond the West is spiritually evolving. Describing what the newspapers immediately dubbed a “God gap,” the report (.pdf) decries Washington’s “uncompromising Western secularism” as a self-imposed obstacle to broadband engagement of religious groups and parties in emerging economies and failed states. This, despite the fact that many of these religious actors are playing leading roles in facilitating their societies’ embrace — or driving their rejection — of globalization’s numerous opportunities and challenges. […]

One of the strengths of the Naval War College is that it constantly reviews and assesses its curriculum. In support of that effort, I have been reacquainting myself with E. H. Carr’s seminal work “The Twenty Years’ Crisis,” which got me to thinking: Will we look back on the period of time between 1991 and 2011 as another two-decade interregnum marked by crisis and opportunity? This isn’t an entirely original thought. James Goldgeier and Derek Chollet opened this discussion two years ago when they published, “America Between the Wars: From 11/9 to 9/11.” But I wanted to focus on the […]

As the United States steps up its campaign to impose economic sanctions on Iran, fears are growing in Washington and in the Middle East that Iran will try to trigger a new war in the region in order to shift attention from its nuclear activities, throw the U.S. and its allies off balance, and put Israel on the defensive. Few people, if any, envision Iran launching a direct attack. Rather, the concern is that Tehran will manage to stir up trouble in Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, or even Syria, in order to spark a new confrontation between Israel […]

It could take over a month before the Iraqi Supreme Court confirms the results of Sunday’s legislative elections, but the process itself has already shown significant successes in several dimensions. Even so, important questions regarding Iraq’s future, and America’s role in it, remain unresolved. Most importantly, this latest election confirms Iraq’s status as a functioning democracy in which multiple candidates and political parties compete for office in essentially free and fair elections, whose outcome could not be predicted in advance. While such an achievement would not be remarkable in many parts of the world, it is a rarity in the […]

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