A recent New York Times feature article on President Barack Obama’s aggressive counterterrorism approach highlighted the administration’s use of armed drones to target terrorists whose names appear on what is known within the White House as the “kill list.” The president himself makes the final decision over whether to place a terrorist on the list, according to Obama advisers quoted in the article. That was the case for Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen and al-Qaida operative who was killed by a drone strike in Yemen, where al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is active. Though drone strikes allow the U.S. to […]

BEIJING — While China’s much-hyped clean energy drive has become bogged down in problems of impracticality and policy incoherence, the U.S. has quietly effected a genuine energy revolution that creates huge cost advantages for America’s manufacturing base going forward. With major structural shifts already underway, changing international energy market dynamics present Washington with an opportunity to fundamentally reorient its foreign policy approach, toward China and a broader range of actors, in the decades to come. In 2011, China overtook the U.S. in terms of renewable energy investment and under current plans will surpass the European Union in 2014. Beijing plans […]

Over the past several months, we have learned more about plans by the U.S. Special Operations Command to take on a greater role globally. As reported by Kim Dozier and others, U.S. special operations forces are working to build a global network of special operations forces in partner countries to meet a wide array of threats. U.S. special operations forces are also marketing themselves to policymakers as the “weapon of choice” after the drawdown in Afghanistan. This push for greater prominence arrives at a time when special operations forces, long the bastard children of the U.S. military, are enjoying unprecedented […]

The Baghdad talks between Iran and the P5+1 bloc, made up of the five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany, seeking to resolve the impasse over Iran’s nuclear program ended with no solution reached but a commitment to meet again in June in Moscow. The foreign policy chief for the European Union, Catherine Ashton, expressed cautious optimism, observing, “It is clear that we both want to make progress, and that there is some common ground.” Most of the commentary on the negotiations has focused on the technical aspects of the diplomacy involved. In this first stage of talks, the […]

Chen Guangcheng, the civil rights activist who made headlines when he sought refuge at the American Embassy in Beijing arrived in the United States over the weekend. The incident strained ties between the U.S. and China, particularly as negotiations over Chen’s future drew international attention to human rights abuses in China, and Beijing demanded an apology for what it called interference in internal matters. But human rights advocates call the story a success in a region where human rights advocacy has proved to be a major challenge for the U.S. “When it comes to advocating for human rights, the U.S. […]

This week, the news broke that Ryan Crocker, arguably the finest U.S. diplomat of his generation, was resigning from his post as the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. Crocker, who came out of retirement to serve as ambassador in Kabul, will be stepping down this summer, a year earlier than scheduled. The news is a blow to U.S. efforts to surround the military strategy in Afghanistan with a diplomatic framework to stabilize the country. As such, it is the latest setback in a war that has been a humbling experience for both the United States and its Western allies. The most […]

Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 1, 2012 (official White House photo by Pete Souza).

The U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership agreement that President Barack Obama recently signed in Kabul with Afghan President Hamid Karzai is especially noteworthy for the lessons it successfully draws from similar agreements with Iraq and other countries, as well as for the pitfalls it avoids repeating. For the past 90 years, negotiations toward such security agreements have repeatedly proved unsuccessful, divisive and downright destabilizing. Britain’s attempt to reach a similar treaty with Iraq in the 1920s contributed to years of tumult and instability in that country. In Iran in the 1960s, the Shah’s security agreement with the U.S. prompted an intense backlash […]

“The [Organization of American States] is an enemy of the U.S. and an enemy to the interests of freedom and security,” said Rep. David Rivera, a Republican congressman from Florida, in July 2011 as he joined the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s GOP majority in voting to cut off U.S. funding for the OAS. Rivera’s low regard for the organization was matched by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who in urging the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean to form a new regional bloc excluding the United States said, “You can’t expect much from the OAS. It’s like a corpse that […]

The narrative that U.S.-Russian relations are set on a downward path with the return of Russian President Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin has received a major shot in the arm with this week’s “summit-gate” saga. Aware that the inability to reach any accord between Russia and the United States over the contentious issue of missile defense would overshadow the NATO summit in Chicago, the Obama administration deliberately changed the location and timing of the G-8 summit, originally scheduled in Chicago immediately after the gathering of the Atlantic alliance, to the presidential retreat at Camp David the weekend before. This change […]

The United States is training a growing force of African troops as part of a wider strategy to fight al-Qaida-affiliated militants in Somalia. Boot camps where contractors hired by the U.S. State Department provide training to Ugandan soldiers made headlines earlier this week. According to recent reports, U.S. contractors will train three quarters of the 18,000 African Union troops deployed to Somalia, and the U.S. government has spent $550 million over the past several years on training and equipment. Politics is what leads to the use of private contractors instead of the military in many African conflicts and crises, such […]

While attempts to frame Algeria within the Arab Spring narrative have proved unrealistic, some observers thought the country’s May 10 parliamentary elections could present an opportunity for substantive political change. European and American officials lauded President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s invitation to international organizations to send election observers, as well as recently passed “reforms,” as progress toward democracy, likening these moves to Morocco’s top-down reform process enacted at the onset of the regional uprisings. But Algeria’s ability to avoid the upheaval that has swept North Africa over the past year has less to do with a proactive leadership and more to do […]

There has been a flurry of decidedly unpublicized diplomatic activity ahead of the next round of Iran nuclear talks in Baghdad on May 23, much of it taking place in the shadows. The European Union’s Helga Schmid and Iran’s Ali Bagheri — the no. 2 nuclear negotiators for the P5+1 and Iran, respectively — met quietly this past week to begin preparing the agenda for the Baghdad meeting. In keeping with the conviction that progress can be more easily achieved outside the glare of the spotlights, European diplomatic sources who confirmed the meeting would only say that it did not […]

A fascinating display of diplomatic balancing occurred this past week in New Delhi. At the same time that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in India to urge the Indian government to tighten sanctions on Iran, an Iranian trade delegation was there exploring ways to circumvent those very sanctions. Over the past year, India has found creative ways to “split the middle” in attempting to maintain good relations with both Washington and Tehran. State-owned refineries have reduced the amount of oil they purchase from Iran, in an effort to bring India into compliance with U.S. legislation that calls for […]

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has wrapped up her latest trip to Asia, which included stops in China, Bangladesh and India, where she met with government officials to review the strategic partnership between India and the United States. She emphasized that the countries must expand trade and investment, deepen security cooperation, promote a shared vision for the region and, she told the media in Delhi, “meet the challenges and seize the opportunities in South and Central Asia.” But Stephen Cohen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told Trend Lines there have been no major changes in the U.S.-Indian […]

Between 1948 and 1973, Egypt and Israel fought four major wars and a collection of smaller skirmishes. Some of these conflicts — the Suez Canal crisis, the Six-Day War of 1967 and the October or Yom Kippur War of 1973 — had geostrategic implications for the United States. Any of them conceivably could have escalated into a confrontation between the two Cold War-era superpowers. And throughout that period, a strong, aggressive Egypt represented the gravest threat to the security of the state of Israel, which had become a vital U.S. interest in the Middle East. For all these reasons, and […]

One issue that warrants greater attention from Washington policymakers moving forward is how relations between Russia and China will affect those two countries’ policies relating to nuclear arms control. In particular, the next administration needs to consider how the U.S. government and other actors can help shape this evolving relationship so that it moves in benign directions, while hedging against possible adverse outcomes. Russia and China have the world’s two most powerful militaries after that of the United States. China is currently undertaking perhaps the most comprehensive military modernization program in the world, while Russia still has approximately as much […]

Top Obama foreign policy adviser Denis McDonough told a Washington security conference Sunday that the White House believes its policy toward Iran is working, characterized Obama’s relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “workman-like” and said Obama’s foreign policy is defined by a clear-eyed pragmatism that is largely nonpartisan and un-ideological. “We are not asking for more time to let negotiations [with Iran] work because we are betting on negotiations,” McDonough told a conference convened by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a Washington think tank. “We are saying something different,” he continued. “We believe the policy we […]

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