So far, the wave of protests jolting the Middle East has targeted mostly regimes friendly to the United States. With the prominent exception of Libya, a country that is rather peripheral to the region’s political life, the uprisings of the Arab Spring have weakened Washington’s friends and, consequently, brought satisfaction to its foes. All of that could change with the events unfolding in the latest country engulfed by reformist protests, Syria. Much like Egypt, Syria stands at the heart of the Middle East. But unlike Cairo, Damascus has remained a very large thorn in America’s side for decades. Run by […]

KIGALI, Rwanda — On a Thursday afternoon in February, a plot worthy of a Hollywood script unfolded in Goma, the freewheeling provincial capital that clings to the eastern edge of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Starring a high-profile Congolese fugitive, a cadre of foreign businessmen and a U.S.-registered Gulfstream jet, the tale featured a car chase that resulted in the seizure of $6.8 million in cash and a dramatic runway arrest that netted a half-ton of gold. Four foreign nationals — including a Frenchman, two Nigerians and a Houston-based diamond dealer — are now awaiting trial in the Congolese capital, […]

President Barack Obama’s address explaining the reasons for the U.S. intervention in Libya has already generated a flurry of responses. Some have lauded the speech as setting forth a set of grand strategic principles that will guide the U.S. response to the “Arab Spring.” Others have decried it as lacking sufficient grand strategic vision. In reality, grand strategic principles rarely dictate specific courses of action in complicated situations, and a coherent grand strategy absolves no one from the responsibility of “muddling through.” Even if there is an “Obama doctrine,” it is unclear how that doctrine matters for Libya, or how […]

The U.S.-led military intervention in Libya is decidedly different than the ongoing military operations underway in Iraq and Afghanistan in at least one sense: Unlike those wars, which President Barack Obama inherited from his predecessor, Libya is Obama’s war from start to finish. As such, it offers us the first true picture of how this commander-in-chief commands — and how he believes U.S. force should be employed. One thing we have learned is that the president is very much a reluctant warrior, as was evident even before he launched what his press secretary calls a “time-limited, scope-limited” operation. Consider the […]

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Like the military intervention in Libya itself, President Barack Obama’s speech last night was probably too little, too late to have a decisive impact on the debate. It offered nothing in the way of a neat doctrine or clear-cut objectives to justify the use of force, meaning that critics are unlikely to be swayed. But in some ways, it was probably more honest than most people were expecting: The decision to intervene was essentially a gut call, long on tactics and short on strategy, whose wisdom will be determined by the outcome on the ground. What the speech did accomplish, […]

Kazakhstan’s oil and gas reserves, as well as its pivotal location, make it of strategic importance to the United States and its allies. But in the run-up to Kazakhstan’s presidential election later this week, the country’s contested democratic practices and uncertain transition to the next generation of political leaders leaves its future unclear. Unfortunately, due to Washington’s preoccupation with the Middle East, North Africa and Afghanistan, both Kazakhstan and its upcoming election run the risk of being largely overlooked. Last month, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev rejected the idea of using a national referendum to extend his term until 2020, despite […]

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff issued a blunt challenge to President Barack Obama when he arrived in Brazil to kick off his first visit to Latin America this past week: no more “empty rhetoric” about partnership between her country and the United States. Whether Washington can meet this standard, however, remains to be seen. Certainly, during this visit, no major initiatives were unveiled; no dramatic vision of a future U.S.-Brazilian entente was presented; and no grand gesture — such as a compromise on the thorny trade issues that continue to hamper commercial ties between the two countries — was magnanimously offered […]

Robert Gates has just completed his first and perhaps his last trip to Russia as secretary of defense under President Barack Obama. Although the two-day visit produced little of substance, some of Gates’ public reflections help us understand how much the Russian-U.S. military relationship has improved during the last few years. As expected, much of the media coverage concerned Russia’s response to the military intervention in Libya led by the U.S., Britain and France. The apparent split between Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who denounced the intervention as a “crusade,” and President Dmitry Medvedev, who mildly rebuked his erstwhile boss, attracted […]

For observers and advocates of the International Criminal Court (ICC), the Feb. 26 U.N. Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on Libya (.pdf) was nothing short of a breakthrough: It marked the first time a decision to refer crimes to the ICC was backed by all members — including the United States, which has been openly hostile to the court for much of its existence. Three weeks later, the U.S. showed support for the ICC yet again, albeit less publicly. During informal talks at the Security Council on March 18, a Kenyan delegation lobbied for a one-year deferral of two ICC […]

As an Army brat who grew up traveling the world, I’ve witnessed first-hand both the power and sense of hope that the United States projects around the globe. These qualities stem from both the might of our military as well as the less tangible characteristics of our diplomatic and compassionate efforts. In decades past, the roles of the State Department and Defense Department were often considered to be parallel and discrete. State negotiated treaties and engaged in diplomatic and aid missions around the globe, whereas Defense was brought to bear when words failed to suffice. Despite being complementary, these elements […]

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Greg Scoblete responded to my argument in support of a military intervention in Libya, which he aptly dubbed the “Because We Can” standard, by questioning just what it is we think we can do: It’s important to recognize that intervening in Libya and bombing Gaddafi’s supporters is not the same thing as finding a politically acceptable end-state to the country’s rebellion — a fact that is being resolutely overlooked by most of the campaign’s supporters. So, yes, there are very low barriers to entry in Libya, which makes it attractive where a campaign against Bahrain or Burma is much less […]

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The extent to which events in Libya have overshadowed President Barack Obama’s Latin America tour can’t be overstated. With the U.S. president in El Salvador today after previous stops in Brazil and Chile, there’s a good deal of speculation about why he decided to press forward with the trip rather than reschedule. Many believe the tour is a “move to counteract the rising influence of China, which is in the midst of an unprecendented energy grab in the oil- and mineral-rich region,” according to a report in the Christian Science Monitor, which asserted that “the Chinese yuan is contesting U.S. […]

The opening acts of the 21st century have fundamentally challenged long-held notions of military power. The past decade has unveiled not only the disruptive power of terrorist groups with global reach, but also the ability of low-budget insurgent groups to directly confront the best military forces of the West — with surprising success. Moreover, recent revolutionary events across the Arab world have demonstrated the limits of military power when facing mass popular uprisings. Disorder, chaos and violent extremism seem on course to replace state-on-state violence as the most common forms of conflict in the new century. Given this new security […]

For many years, the United States has been the world’s most powerful nation. It remains the undisputed global leader in military power and still possesses vast economic and cultural influence. And while Washington’s ability to combine both hard and soft power to influence world events — what Joseph Nye calls “smart power” — has diminished somewhat, it is still in a far superior position relative to any other country. U.S. primacy, however, comes with opportunity costs. An alternate path might have delivered a comparable level of security at far less expense and risk. Even many who unabashedly celebrate our 20-year […]

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Four separate assaults by rebel forces in Colombia have left at least 11 dead. Authorities say the FARC and ELN guerrilla groups are responsible. Three civilians were killed in a rebel attack on a town in the Colombian region of Norte de Santander on Friday. The human death toll in rebel attacks over the last 24 hours now stands at eleven.

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There are plenty of compelling arguments against the intervention in Libya. The fact that it takes place as President Barack Obama embarks on his first tour of Latin America highlights the way in which our disproportionate and outdated engagement in the Middle East distracts us strategically from what I consider to be more important priorities in our own hemisphere. The delay in taking action allowed for a broad if fragile multilateral mandate, but also probably reduced the likelihood that the intervention will be immediately decisive and thereby raised the risk of a drawn-out stalemate. I, for one, think we could […]

Writing in his World Politics Review column this week, Thomas P.M. Barnett warned that the United States’ response to the Libyan uprising risks turning Ian Bremmer’s and David Gordon’s prediction of a “G-zero” world into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Specifically, Barnett argued that by failing to take the lead in organizing an intervention to tip the scales in the Libyan civil war on behalf of the opposition to Moammar Gadhafi, the Obama administration was “purposefully abdicat[ing] its global leadership role.” Another reading is that the administration’s reaction to the Libyan uprising reflects the degree to which it allowed itself to be […]

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