It is hard to think of a period in the past five decades in which this country was more painfully bereft of national leadership than it currently finds itself. On one side we have an increasingly isolated president who, as Edward Luce opined recently, “prefers to campaign than govern.” On the other is a House-controlling GOP that, in the words of Thomas Friedman, “has gone nuts.” What’s more, the highly negative campaign that 2012 is shaping up to be will secure no governing mandate for the eventual winner, meaning that things are likely to get far worse. The result will […]

It is usually difficult to judge with certainty the outcome of international summits in their immediate aftermath. But last weekend’s East Asia Summit in Bali, Indonesia, made at least one thing clear: The Obama administration has managed to mend the rift with the member countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations that emerged under President George W. Bush. At Bali, President Barack Obama received strong and positive feedback from ASEAN countries. And in advance of the summit, he strengthened the United States’ historic alliance with Australia, a country that seems to be emerging with a new role in […]

President Barack Obama’s recent trip to Australia highlighted, in a very deliberate way, a decision to shift U.S. attention and resources away from the Middle East and toward East Asia. Obama’s remarks to the Australian Parliament, combined with his announcement of a new basing agreement at Darwin, on Australia’s northern coast, framed several days of discussions on the role that the United States would play in Asian power politics. Sam Roggeveen of the Lowy Institute of International Politics, an Australian foreign policy think tank, suggested that Obama’s speech in Canberra was as important and consequential as the Cairo speech of […]

article card

President Barack Obama’s Asian trip is being hailed as a diplomatic triumph, and to the extent that the three-stop tour delivered both concrete and symbolic accomplishments, that assessment is correct. In Hawaii, Obama strengthened the chances that the Trans-Pacific Partnership will become the cornerstone of future trade integration in the region. In Australia, he announced a small but symbolically resonant agreement to station U.S. Marines at an Australian base. And at the East Asia Summit in Indonesia, he very visibly underscored America’s renewed commitment not just to Asia, but to the region’s multilateral institutional architecture that the Bush administration had […]

There is perhaps no better measure of the failure of American strategy over the past decade than the fact that in both Iraq and Afghanistan, tactical objectives have been used to define victory. In particular, both wars have been characterized by an all-encompassing obsession with the methods and tactics of counterinsurgency. To be sure, the tactics of counterinsurgency require political and cultural acumen to build host-nation governments and economies. But understanding the political aspects of counterinsurgency tactics is fundamentally different from understanding core American political objectives and then defining a cost-effective strategy to achieve them. If it is to avoid […]

article card

Thanks to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and the two wars they spawned, it seemed like the near entirety of President George W. Bush’s two terms in office were characterized by efforts to define, harness and exploit fear. Despite living in the most peaceful, prosperous and predictable period in world history, Americans became convinced that they faced an unending era of war, impoverishment and chaos. That muddled mindset put us painfully out of touch with the rest of the planet. Enter then-Sen. Barack Obama, whose masterful presidential campaign in 2008 spoke openly and honestly about healing that growing rift. […]

Nairobi’s Operation Linda Nchi, or Protect the Country, was launched in October as a counterterrorism measure after kidnappings of foreign tourists and aid workers inside of Kenya were linked to the Somalian militant group al-Shabaab. For a country that has seen lucrative tourism revenues, especially from cruise ship visits, dry up in the wake of the instability emanating from Somalia, the abductions were the last straw. But an unintended side benefit of the intervention has been its impact on piracy. In the face of the military operation, with Kenyan army units pushing up toward the port of Kismayo, Somali pirate […]

The latest IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program is a particularly bad piece of news for an Obama administration that is already coping with other brushfires in the Middle East. If President Barack Obama is re-elected next year, then Iran will very likely cross the nuclear finish line on his watch. Given the “musical chairs” nature of U.S. politics, where the person left standing when the music stops loses, the blame for Tehran getting the bomb will fall squarely on Obama’s shoulders, even though one could quite fairly apportion a fair share to the Clinton and Bush administrations. Since 2009, […]

article card

The need to bring order to America’s finances has made defense budget cuts unavoidable, with the question now turning to where and how much to cut. A recent CNAS report offered some granular — and alarming at the high end — details in terms of how various levels of cuts would impact U.S. military capabilities. Now two articles in Foreign Affairs bring into focus a more reassuring view of both defense austerity, which Benjamin J. Friedman likens to “the best possible auditor,” and retrenchment, which Joseph Parent and Paul MacDonald deem to be the most promising way for an overextended […]

article card

The recent revelation that the Drug Enforcement Administration is operating several militarized commando squads in Latin America signals an apparent U.S. eagerness to begin using covert counternarcotics strategies honed in Afghanistan over the past decade in the Western Hemisphere. The DEA’s so-called FAST team program — Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Teams — was reportedly created during the Bush administration to investigate Taliban-linked drug traffickers in Afghanistan. While their deployment now to Honduras, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Belize signals a new development, in some ways it actually represents a return to the program’s historical roots, which can be traced back to […]

Under what circumstances could the United States and China go to war? A recently released RAND report (.pdf) examined this question and unsurprisingly concluded that war between the two countries was improbable, even while identifying North Korea and Taiwan as the two most likely flashpoints. The report found that a war with China was improbable because the costs in any scenario would be virtually incalculable, in large part because it might induce a global financial collapse. Nevertheless, U.S. and Chinese military strategists will continue long-term planning for war scenarios against one another, with a time horizon of up to 50 […]

No credible international affairs specialist would contend that the 2012 presidential election will hinge on U.S. foreign policy, given the state of the U.S. economy and the widespread social anger that one sees bubbling up across the country. What’s more, Americans — if not Beltway partisan pundits — have achieved a certain sense of consensus on foreign policy under President Barack Obama, whose leadership has displayed a palpable “give them what they want” dynamic that reflects his desire to keep overseas issues on the back burner while he focuses on domestic ones. That last part should not be mistaken for […]

Scarcely was the ink dry on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s interview with Time magazine in which she extolled U.S. global leadership than the Palestinian bid for membership in UNESCO called into question the secretary’s optimistic appraisal of American influence around the world. Despite the claims of some pundits that a cabal of U.N. bureaucrats somehow engineered Palestine’s admission as a full member state of the organization, the ultimate responsibility lies squarely with the governments that cast their votes in Paris on Monday. Given the importance and sensitivity of the Palestinian question, it is highly unlikely that UNESCO ambassadors were […]

One purpose of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recently completed trip to Afghanistan and several of its neighbors was to secure the growing flow of Western military supplies entering Afghanistan through the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), which involves Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Russia and other former Soviet republics. Another objective was to promote Afghanistan’s economic integration with the rest of Central Asia. Both tasks are difficult and essential, but we must not allow our urgent pursuit of the first to distract us from the long-term necessity of the second. The Central Asian countries have been logical partners to support the U.S.-led […]

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan drove an evolution in U.S. military doctrine that saw the emergence and rapid rise to prominence of counterinsurgency and stability operations. With the U.S. preparing to leave Iraq and draw down its mission in Afghanistan, this WPR report examines U.S. military doctrine in — and after — the Long War. Below are links to each article in this special report, which subscribers can read in full. Not a subscriber? Purchase this document for Kindle or as a PDF from Scribd. Or subscribe now. COIN in Iraq Institutionalizing Adaptation: U.S. Counterinsurgency Capabilities Must ImproveBy John […]