As the Libya operation enters what appears to be its final phase, the debate is only beginning as to what it portends for the future of U.S. policy and the international system as a whole. The course of events in Libya over the past months validates what I have termed the “just enough” doctrine. The Obama administration successfully resisted pressure — from Libyan rebels, European allies and domestic critics alike — to increase the U.S. role in order to achieve a faster outcome in Libya. If that doctrine takes on greater coherence, it could strengthen the arguments for limited, targeted […]

The future of Libya was never terribly important to the U.S. That has now changed. Under the rule of the flamboyant Col. Moammar Gadhafi, Tripoli managed to garner a lot of attention, but, in fact, the country had only marginal strategic importance to the West. Then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates admitted as much soon after the U.S. agreed to join a NATO effort on the side of the rebels seeking to topple the regime. Once NATO launched its operation in Libya, however, the stakes for Washington suddenly grew. And now more than ever, with Gadhafi out of power, Libya has […]

Over the past few days, Libyan rebels supported by NATO airstrikes have seized most of Tripoli. The rebels’ apparent military success has quieted, at least for the moment, many critics of NATO’s military strategy in Libya. While a full account of the lessons learned from the conflict must await the writing of a full history — not to mention the end of the actual war — the events of the past few days demand a degree of re-evaluation of how the campaign was conducted. Indeed, this column has offered several critiques of NATO’s performance, including commentary on the dubious legality […]

It is amusing to hear U.S. politicians of all ideological stripes sounding like classic libertarians as they proclaim that, in these times of fiscal austerity, the United States should no longer act as the “world’s policeman” and that other countries should be contributing “their fair share” to global security. Nevertheless, the many studies undertaken by the fellows of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, detailing how the United States can shift to becoming an “offshore balancer,” thereby reducing its footprint around the world, and how our European and East Asian allies can afford to do more in the service […]

Despite numerous statements by Philippine and U.S. authorities over the past few years highlighting progress in the fight against terrorism, recent events in the southernmost corner of the Philippines show that the battle there is far from won. On Aug. 1, seven Philippine marines were killed — five of them beheaded or mutilated — and 21 others wounded after being ambushed by some 300 alleged members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Patikul, in the Sulu Archipelago. Unconfirmed reports say that 11 ASG members were also killed in the fighting. The ASG, often labeled a local terrorist group, has […]

article card

With the U.S. expanding the role of CIA operatives and possibly private security contractors in Mexico’s drug war, there were reports this week that both countries are intent on circumventing Mexican laws that prohibit foreign military and police from operating inside the country. That Mexican President Felipe Calderón would openly embrace such a strategy is “not entirely surprising,” says Hal Brands, a historian at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, who notes that Mexican laws have long left the country in an awkward position when it comes to seeking security assistance from its northern neighbor. “The problem is that […]

The downing of a Chinook helicopter carrying 31 Americans on Sunday graphically highlighted the continuing costs of fighting the war in Afghanistan. The presence of Navy SEALs among the dead made an emotional connection with the May killing of Osama bin Laden almost inevitable. The logic of that connection, though, has largely remained implicit: With bin Laden now dead, how long should the United States continue to accept the loss its very best in Afghanistan? Ending wars can be very difficult, even when the strategic ends of a war no longer justify the costs incurred. For the U.S. in Afghanistan, […]

The State Department is currently planning to assume leadership of the U.S. mission in Iraq on Oct. 1, 2011. Yet, recent proposals in Congress to cut further the department’s budget for Iraq, following two reductions in planned spending last year, threaten to defeat a transition plan that, if not quite representing victory, offers the best hope of achieving an outcome acceptable to U.S. interests as well as to the Iraqi people. The planned handoff of the U.S. mission in Iraq from the Defense Department to State includes positioning some 17,000 political, economic and security personnel under the authority of the […]

This month’s debt-ceiling deal in Washington did little to quell the growing chorus of complaints around the world concerning America’s continued inability to live within its means. As those complaints invariably translate into corporate hedging, government self-defense strategies, credit rating drops — Standard and Poor’s is already in the bag — and market short-selling, the U.S. will most assuredly be made to feel the world’s mounting angst. This is both right and good, even as it is unlikely to change our path anytime soon: Until some internal political rebalancing occurs, America will invariably stick to its current cluster of painfully […]

While Washington lawmakers congratulate themselves for avoiding a default on U.S. government obligations by raising the debt ceiling at the proverbial 11th hour, and the halls of the Capitol ring with praise that the “system worked as intended,” the view from outside the Beltway is not so sanguine. Certainly, the U.S. has not fallen into the morass that bedeviled 18th-century Poland, where with a single negative vote, any member of the assembly could force its dissolution — and the nullification of all legislation passed during that session. But the inability of the House of Representatives, the Senate and the president […]

The new Middle East is very much a work in progress, but there is little question that the latest developments in that pivotal part of the world are making the stirring picture of freedom, democracy and secularism that so many had envisioned in the early days of the Arab Spring look more like a glassy mirage masking anti-liberal, anti-Western sentiment. As spring has given way to a boiling summer, most of the region’s revolutions have either stalled or moved in a direction that bears little resemblance to what progressive forces had initially hoped for. Not only have Arab liberals experienced […]

article card

While the horrific famine in the Horn of Africa has captured international attention, a similar emergency on the other side of the world, in North Korea, has quietly moved past the point of crisis. The World Food Program in April called for $224 million in emergency aid for North Korea. But the international community — particularly the United States and South Korea, traditionally the largest donors to North Korea — have so far refused to fund the request. Their resistance, according to Roberta Cohen, a nonresident senior foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, can best be explained […]

Despite the rush right now to declare important milestones or turning points in the fight against terrorism, the best handle we can get on the situation seems to be that al-Qaida is near dead, but its franchises have quite a bit of life in them. The implied situational uncertainty is to be expected following Osama Bin Laden’s assassination, as he was our familiar “handle” on the issue for more than a decade. But although it is normal that we now seek a new, widely accepted paradigm, it is also misguided: In global terms we are, for lack of a better […]