A lot of international relations theories are being stress-tested by events in the Arab world right now, with some emerging better than others. Two in particular that are worth mentioning are Ian Bremmer’s 2006 book, “The J Curve,” which predicts a dangerous dip into instability when closed, authoritarian states attempt to open up to the world; and Evgeny Morozov’s new book, “The Net Delusion,” which critiques the notion that Internet connectivity is inherently democratizing. (In the interests of transparency, I work as a consultant for Bremmer’s political risk consultancy, Eurasia Group, and penned a pre-publication blurb for Morozov’s book.) Both […]

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One of the major points of speculation about the impact of the Egyptian uprising is over how a democratic government in Cairo will affect Egypt’s foreign policy, in particular regarding Israel. A just-released Ifop poll of French opinion on the Afghanistan War (via Jean-Dominique Merchet) highlights a point I’ve been meaning to make: Democracies are not immune to unpopular foreign policy. According to the Ipof poll, 72 percent of French people oppose the country’s involvement in the Afghanistan War. That’s slightly higher than the two-thirds who opposed the war at the time that French President Nicolas Sarkozy decided to deploy […]

Last weekend I attended a conference in San Antonio on the relevance of Thucydides’ “History of the Peloponnesian War” to the practice of contemporary American foreign policy. Sponsored by the Liberty Fund, the conference’s motivating concept and focus was the relationship between democracy and empire in Thucydides. The conference attendees included scholars of several stripes, including War College faculty, former policymakers from the Bush administration and prominent think tank fellows. This was no dry academic conference focused on textual minutiae. Rather, it was intended to give policymakers — and those who educate policymakers — space for thinking about what Thucydides […]

Several additional national security strategies have been issued in recent weeks, including the publication earlier this month of both an updated National Military Strategy and the first-ever National Security Space Strategy. Though these texts shed additional light on the priorities and perspectives of the Obama administration’s national security team at mid-term, they serve other purposes than just articulating strategy. The National Military Strategy (.pdf) starts by describing the security environment in which the Pentagon operates, the U.S. military’s core objectives and the Defense Department’s strategies for pursuing them. It then assesses the adequacy of U.S. military capabilities to achieve these […]

The decline of the American “empire” has been a persistent theme of the punditocracy these past several years, with the underlying logic being Washington’s inability to extend, ad infinitum, the primacy seemingly conferred upon it at Cold War’s end. The global financial crisis has now further revealed a suddenly — and stunningly — rebalanced global order, and as a result, Americans are supposed to dread the vast uncertainties of our allegedly “post-American world.” Worse, Americans are also being presented with a patently false binary choice: Should the U.S. do what is necessary to regain its primacy or simply let it […]

On Feb. 2, a car exploded 12 miles outside Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, killing three suspected terrorists and wounding several soldiers. Mauritanian security forces identified the terrorists’ intended target as the French embassy in Nouakchott, a claim repeated by a man arrested in the operation. However, in the aftermath of the attack, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) released a statement, claiming the real target had been the president of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz. A few days later, AQIM released another statement to a state news agency threatening additional attempts on the president’s life. The […]

There’s a lot of trepidation mixed in with the joy of seeing one of the Arab world’s great dictators finally step down. With Americans being so down on themselves these days, many see more to fear than to celebrate. But on the whole, there’s no good reason for the pessimism on display, which is based on a lot of specious assumptions that need to be discarded. Here’s my Top 10 list. 1) Mubarak’s quick-exit scenario means this is Iran, 1979. Nonsense, with the key reasons being the deft play by the Egyptian military and its deep and long relationship with […]

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The transformation currently unfolding in the Middle East could be as monumental as the changes in Europe that followed World War II and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. In both of those instances, the goals of the United States and its allies were transparent and consequential: to solidify Western power and establish a world order based on democracy and market economics. This successful model should be pursued once more by providing smart, dual-benefit assistance to all Middle Eastern nations seeking to build free and democratic societies. In the coming months, numerous governments in the Middle East will likely need […]

KAMPALA, Uganda — When Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni seized power 25 years ago, he brought order to a nation that was reeling from two decades of crisis. After the terror-filled reigns of Idi Amin and Milton Obote, Museveni ushered in an era of relative prosperity. The West was quick to brand Uganda a rare “African success.” Praised for tackling HIV/AIDS, promoting women’s rights and pursuing growth through the Washington Consensus of fiscal discipline and free markets, Museveni gained acclaim as a “New African Leader”: a bush soldier turned democrat, poised to steer his continent in a new direction. But in […]

Events in Egypt have taken center stage in global news coverage, displacing developments in Afghanistan in what amounts to a mixed blessing for the Obama administration. For while critics have taken the White House to task for its approach on Egypt, particularly over its mixed messages and lack of a unified response, they have paid less attention to the recent string of Taliban bombings in Kandahar — and the potential implications for the administration’s war strategy. The attacks killed the province’s deputy governor, Abdul Latif Ashna, and targeted the home of Kandahar’s police chief, Khan Mohammad Mujahid, who was not […]

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Burma’s opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, is calling for Western countries to end sanctions against the country’s military regime. She says the sanctions have hurt ordinary Burmese, as about a third of the country’s 50 million people live below the poverty line. Burma’s National League for Democracy’s party says it wants to talk with Western nations about cutting back sanctions against the military ruled state.

One simple rule of revolution is that regimes fall when their security services refuse to fire on protesters, while uprisings often falter when security forces do go ahead and shoot. The situation in Egypt remains fluid, but thus far the Egyptian army has not violently put down the protest movement. Why? The answer is complicated. Mark Thompson argued at Time’s Swampland blog that the exposure of Egyptian military officers to norms of professionalism and civilian control in the United States may have been determinative in the Egyptian army’s decision not to crush the anti-Mubarak protests. Thompson’s argument draws on several […]

The Obama administration’s reaction to the dramatic events in Egypt has inspired many analogies in recent days. Its initial caution and clumsiness, followed by its conviction to “be on the right side of history,” reminded optimists of the Bush administration’s reaction in 1989 to the uprisings in Eastern Europe, for example, and pessimists of the Carter administration’s reaction a decade earlier to Iran’s revolution. The Obama administration’s air of ambivalence, however, evokes a perennial condition of international relations. Accustomed as most of us are to power hierarchies, we often overlook how difficult and complex actual relations can be between big […]

Although even the immediate outcome of the unrest in Egypt remains uncertain, its potential ramifications beyond the country’s borders are worth assessing, considering Egypt’s importance to regional and world politics. Considered an international center of Islamic culture and teaching, Egypt is perhaps the most influential Arab country, with the largest Muslim population in the Middle East and one of the strongest militaries in the Arab world. It has contributed to foreign stability operations, most notably in the First Gulf War, and has important intelligence assets in the world’s various Islamist movements, including reported informants within al-Qaida. Egypt also enjoys considerable […]

While there remains a ton of things that can go wrong with the unfolding revolution in Egypt, there’s a strong case to be made that America, despite its low popular standing there, has been handed a gift horse whose mouth, as the axiom puts it, is best left unexamined. Because most of America’s concerns center on security issues, I’ll frame the argument for why this is the case in tactical, operational and strategic terms, and then finish on the most relevant grand strategic note — namely, the new Axis of Good that may result. Concerning President Hosni Mubarak’s conditional offer […]

Over the course of the two-week-old protests in Egypt, the American media has been consumed with debate over how the U.S. government should react. An emerging consensus across the political spectrum argues that President Barack Obama should support the protesters’ demand that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resign immediately. This view was prominently expressed in an open letter to Obama by dozens of well-known scholars of Middle East politics, who advised him to essentially abandon 30 years of strong support for the Mubarak regime by throwing in America’s lot with the protest movement. Such a step would not clearly serve American […]

There’s no way to predict what will unfold in Egypt in the days and weeks ahead. Will protests continue until President Hosni Mubarak is overthrown? Will the military and security services initiate a full-scale crackdown in the name of restoring law and order? What will instability in the largest country in the Arab world portend for the Middle East as a whole? The U.S. national security establishment, of necessity, is in reactive mode right now as it assesses these questions. However, to the extent that Washington can shape the situation, what are some of the lessons from other “regime changes” […]

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