BAMAKO, Mali — Al-Qaida-linked Islamist groups took control of northern Mali earlier this year, prompting concerns that the vast desert expanse could become a jihadist safe haven. Since then, U.S. policymakers have openly entertained the possibility of kinetic operations, such as drone strikes in northern Mali, and pundits are asking if the landlocked West African nation now constitutes a new front in the war on terror. Largely overlooked in this discussion, however, is the fact that United States has been heavily engaged in counterterrorism activities in this part of Africa for more than a decade — an engagement that has […]

One of the challenges that President Barack Obama faces in his second term is how to salvage his vaunted reset of relations with Russia. An important assumption in Obama’s attempt to jumpstart what had been a rapidly deteriorating bilateral relationship during the second terms of both George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin was that Obama would be dealing with a younger, more modern, liberalizing Dmitry Medvedev as Russian president. While there was no illusion that Putin, as prime minister, was still an influential figure in Russian politics, the reset was predicated on the hope that Medvedev would, over […]

Since the Obama administration announced a strategic “pivot” to Asia in October 2011, since recharacterized as a “rebalancing,” U.S. policy in the region, and the world, has been seen through the prism of the much-anticipated Asian Century. With an eye to China’s rising influence, Washington has been strengthening its ties with regional allies and partners. At the same time, China’s neighbors have been shoring up relations and creating new partnerships among themselves to respond to the shifting landscape. This WPR Special Report reviews the strategic shift to Asia. The View From Washington U.S. Must Put Words Into Action in Asia-PacificBy […]

When the Cold War began in the late-1940s, the U.S. military entered uncharted waters. Previously, the American tradition had been to mobilize the Army and Navy when war was unavoidable, defeat the enemy, demobilize and then come home. That was clearly inadequate for a dangerous new world where the Soviet Union and its allies threatened fragile U.S. allies with direct attack, subversion or insurgency. The new circumstances called for a new strategy built on sustained global engagement and forward presence. This, in turn, required a different security architecture. In Washington, the newly created National Security Council integrated interagency efforts, and […]

Although Russia and China are the only countries that have the capability to conduct a large-scale ballistic missile attack on the U.S. homeland, neither one is the focus of U.S. ballistic missile defense efforts, due to the unlikelihood of such an attack. Nevertheless, both Moscow and Beijing have repeatedly expressed their concerns that U.S. missile defenses will negatively impact their own strategic capabilities and interests. While China shares some of Russia’s concerns and responses regarding U.S. missile defenses, Beijing’s objections also differ in certain respects. Both countries fear that U.S. BMD systems threaten to weaken their nuclear deterrents and undermine […]

When Air Force One touched down at Yangon’s Mingaladon Airport on Nov. 19, Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Myanmar. Though the visit only lasted six hours and was bookended by longer stops in Thailand and Cambodia, it was critical not only for maintaining Myanmar’s momentum toward reform but also for solidifying its place in the U.S. regional strategy in Asia. Despite the symbolism, the Obama administration insisted that the president’s visit was not intended as a premature “victory lap” to celebrate Myanmar’s reforms, as critics claimed it risked being perceived, but only to sustain a […]

In 2006, after Israeli forces performed poorly in combat against Hezbollah’s hybrid asymmetric-conventional tactics, some observers wondered whether Israel had lost its deterrent power against its enemy in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s subsequent tacit apology to the Lebanese people for the destructiveness of the month-long conflict should have offered a clue that such a conclusion was erroneous. “Had we known that the kidnapping of the soldiers would have led to this, we would definitely not have done it,” he said in a television interview following the fighting. The initial proof of Israel’s renewed deterrent came two years later, […]

A series of major political developments on the Afghan front this month all point toward new cooperative efforts by Pakistan, Afghanistan and the U.S. to bring the Taliban leadership into the negotiation process. The renewed push for a negotiated settlement to the conflict comes against the backdrop of the looming withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 2014. Though major questions remain as to whether the effort will bear fruit, it represents what many fear is the last chance to avert a bloody fight for control of Kabul once foreign troops have left the country. On Nov. 14, during the […]

All roads in the conflict between Iran and the United States may not lead to war, but the one both sides are currently on certainly does. The two are at loggerheads, their relationship ossified into a zero-sum strategy that leaves almost no room to maneuver. Since Israel’s security, as the Israelis define it, shapes U.S. strategy toward Iran as much as America’s direct security does, there are rigid limits on what Washington can do or even propose. It is hard enough to reconcile the vital interests of two nations, much less three. Compounding the problem, the United States does not […]

In the euphoric glow that inevitably descends after a hard-won electoral victory, it is very easy to get caught up in the excitement of possibilities. Indeed, the mood of some supporters of U.S. President Barack Obama following his re-election was that happy days are, if not here again, then at least near again: The economy is recovering, and all of the wishes put on hold during the first term, especially once the election campaign was in full swing, could now be put back on track. As a result, Obama now faces a double dose of temptation. The first is natural […]

Having won re-election, President Barack Obama now faces the daunting task of reinvigorating American foreign policy. There are reasons to be optimistic. As he turns his sights to his second term, the president has the benefit of four years of executive experience and is buoyed by the political capital that comes of even the most modest electoral victories. Both could translate into a more determined hand at the helm of the ship of state, even if domestic challenges will necessarily receive the lion’s share of the president’s attention. But for the Obama administration to solidify what has to date been […]

President Barack Obama will visit Myanmar later this month, the White House announced Thursday, in a trip meant to underscore the U.S. foreign policy shift toward the Asia-Pacific. Obama is scheduled to meet with Myanmarese President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the two key figures at the center of Myanmar’s dramatic re-emergence into the international community, before continuing on to Cambodia and Thailand. Two experts told Trend Lines that the visit could be a catalyst for continued reforms in a country still early in its democratic transition. “This is a symbolic visit to reinforce the message […]

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Over the next several weeks, the parameters of President Barack Obama’s second-term national security and foreign policy team will begin to take shape. Both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta are expected to tender their resignations and retire from the administration. The new occupants of these posts, in turn, will change the composition of both departments through their appointments to senior policy positions. There has also been talk about a shake-up in the White House staff, as the president gears up to meet the challenges that were deferred or ignored due to the exigencies of […]

The White House has reportedly ordered the Pentagon to reposition drones for possible retaliatory strikes in Libya — the latest evidence that drones are dislodging manned aircraft from the central role they have played in U.S. warfighting since World War II. After a decade of wars that have cost billions of dollars and claimed thousands of American lives, the American people overwhelmingly support this transition to an unmanned air force. After all, unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) deliver a lethal punch at low economic cost, with zero risk to American personnel. That explains why 83 percent of the country approves […]

Though it will be at least another 12 hours before we know whether President Barack Obama or Republican nominee Mitt Romney will be in the White House come January 2013, we do already know the most important challenge the next U.S presidential administration will face: how to deal with China. Yet, the general bipartisan consensus on the appropriate U.S policy toward China makes major changes unlikely regardless of the election outcome. Democrats and Republicans typically agree on the goal of achieving a peaceful China in a prosperous Asian region that reflects U.S-supported values of human rights. They also generally reject […]

During last week’s presidential debate on foreign policy, Republican nominee Mitt Romney missed an opportunity to criticize one aspect of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy that has gone largely unnoticed: the shift away from U.S. international radio broadcasting in favor of more high-tech media outlets. The dangers of the shift were underscored by a new law spearheaded by Russian President Vladimir Putin that will ban radio broadcasting in Russia starting Nov. 10 by companies that are more than 48 percent foreign-owned. Without protest, the American station Radio Liberty — Radio Svoboda in Russian — has decided to comply with the […]

No matter who wins the U.S. presidential election next week, the man who governs from January 2013 to January 2017 will face several challenges during his term in office. While we don’t know who the next American president will be, we do know what items will be appearing on his agenda. In 2014, Scottish voters will go to the polls to determine whether they wish to remain part of the United Kingdom or secede as an independent nation. With separatist sentiment also on display in other key regions of Europe, especially in Flanders (in Belgium) and Catalonia (in Spain), the […]