The ink was not dry on the agreement that the United States and its five partners signed with Iran over the weekend before criticism exploded. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it “a historic mistake,” while his economic minister, Naftali Bennett, said, “If five years from now a nuclear suitcase explodes in New York or Madrid, it will be because of the deal.” Former U.S. diplomat John Bolton called it “abject surrender.” And all of this is just the opening round: During the coming weeks there will be an outpouring of attacks on the agreement. The freshly signed deal is […]

Over the weekend the U.S.-led international negotiating team and Iran concluded an interim agreement in Geneva intended to verifiably limit Iran’s nuclear program in return for a partial relaxation of international economic pressure. The agreed upon “Joint Plan of Action” covers the next six months while the sides attempt to negotiate a comprehensive final agreement that would resolve the question of Iran’s nuclear status. While President Barack Obama said in a statement following the finalization of the agreement that the Iranian people have a chance at “rejoining the international community,” the nuclear issue is hardly the only obstacle to a […]

The debate about U.S. targeted killing policy has become repetitive and familiar. The policy’s proponents argue that the precision and accuracy of drones keep civilian casualties to a minimum, and that drones are the most viable tool in fighting an asymmetric war, particularly in places that are off-limits to U.S. troops. Opponents of drone strikes argue that civilian casualties are much higher than U.S. government estimates, and that the policy is counterproductive because it leads to the radicalization of a new generation of terrorists. The number of civilian casualties from drone strikes is perhaps the most complicated of these questions, […]

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The phase one agreement signed in Geneva over the weekend by the P5+1 powers and Iran, though temporary, conditional and fraught with uncertainty, is inarguably good news: It is the first time that Iran has explicitly agreed to freeze or limit parts of its nuclear program, and roll back other parts of it, since the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president in 2005. If the deal holds, the next six months will be the first time in eight years that Iran’s nuclear program has been slowed for reasons other than technical difficulties and outside sabotage. It bears noting that the […]

For many in Washington, last month’s two-week shutdown of the federal government is already ancient history, replaced by a focus on the travails of the Obamacare website and feverish speculation about Hillary Clinton’s prospects as a presidential candidate in 2016. But the aftershocks of the shutdown continue to reverberate around the world. In particular, there is concern that President Barack Obama will have difficulty getting Congress, particularly a Republican-controlled House of Representatives, to vote in favor of giving his administration the flexibility it will need to conduct delicate negotiations, both with foes as well as with friends. The continuing negotiations […]

On Nov. 8, Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the Philippines. The storm, known as Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines, was one of the largest typhoons on record, with estimates of the dead in the thousands and of the displaced in the millions. The United States acted quickly to help its ally, but some senior lawmakers and military officials worry that in the age of sequestration U.S. capabilities to carry out such operations in the future may deteriorate. The U.S. response in the Philippines has been “rapid and decisive,” according to Renato DeCastro of De La Salle University in Manila. He explained […]

Hondurans will vote Sunday, Nov. 24, in a presidential election that polls suggest is too close to call. U.S. interests are plainly at stake, but this has less to do with the individual who may end up being elected than with the legitimacy of the election itself and how the new president, once in office, chooses to govern. In what should be a clarifying and unifying election, the electorate instead is polarized, and at least three of the leading candidates are each convinced they will win. Official results may not be known for a week or more after the election; […]

Today the U.S.-Israeli relationship, long a bedrock alliance for both nations, is rancorous and tense. Americans on the political right attribute this to the weakness or even incompetence of President Barack Obama, particularly concerning Iran. Portraying the problem as one of personalities or political inclinations may keep pundits employed, but it misses the bigger and more important picture. The United States is, in fact, “pursuing a policy agenda in the Middle East that is increasingly divergent from Israeli interests,” but this reflects more than just a predilection of the Obama administration. The divergence between the two old allies reflects deep […]

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These should be salad days for the State Department. It is on its fifth in a string of “rock star” secretaries with world-class political skills and major public followings at home and abroad. The U.S. public has just told its representatives as decisively as at any time in the past half-century to pursue diplomatic, not military, solutions to world problems. As Hillary Clinton put it at the end of her tenure as secretary of state, “In today’s world, when we can be anywhere virtually, more than ever, people want us to actually show up.” But over that same period of […]

Diplomacy in the American political system is frequently described as the exclusive province of presidents. Thomas Jefferson, America’s first secretary of state, wrote in 1790, “The transaction of business with foreign nations is executive altogether. . . . Exceptions are to be strictly construed.” A decade later, John Marshall, who would go on to become the most influential chief justice in U.S. history, declared on the floor of the House of Representatives, “The president is the sole organ of the nation in its external relations, and its sole representative with foreign nations.” Justice George Sutherland noted Marshall’s claim in United […]

By Sept. 10, 2001, the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, was increasingly slouching toward irrelevance. Although USAID Administrator Brian Atwood had instituted important reforms during his tenure at the helm during the 1990s, the agency had been badly bloodied by a contentious political battle with the Republican-controlled Congress over whether it should be folded into the State Department. Remarkably, Atwood held both the State Department and Sen. Jesse Helms at bay when Congress tried to abolish USAID and place its remains in Foggy Bottom. But Atwood and the agency paid a steep price for their resistance, and angry […]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent “reassurance tour” of America’s Middle East partners was not a resounding success. Kerry’s attempts to convince skeptical allies that the United States remains committed to their security and well-being, interrupted in part by the secretary’s decision to travel to Geneva to attend the second round of talks over Iran’s nuclear program, were confronted with concerns that the United States lacks both strategic focus and staying power. Writing in Gulf News, Linda S. Heard opined, “The U.S. is currently bleeding trust with many of its regional allies.” On Egypt, Syria, Israel-Palestine and Iran, U.S. […]

The debate over whether America is the world’s indispensable nation will continue, but when it comes to the Middle East nobody is waiting for the answer. Washington’s gradual but steady retreat from its once-unabashed exercise of influence in the region has sparked a rush by second-tier powers to fill the vacuum that has resulted. As the U.S. holds back, other nations are raising their profile, hoping to gain from Washington’s reluctance to play a larger role. The more passive the U.S. becomes, the more assertive others grow. To be sure, the U.S. remains far and away the most influential outside […]

Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Saudi Arabia earlier this week to mend fraying U.S. ties with the kingdom, which remains one of America’s key partners in the Middle East. At the end of his visit, in a joint press conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud, Kerry declared that U.S.-Saudi ties are “strategic” and “enduring.” But if the Obama administration now believes that things are back on track, it should reconsider that assessment. Given the current overlap between Washington and Riyadh’s regional and global interests, both countries will continue to work closely together, but the coming years will […]

Last week, a U.S. drone strike killed Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of Pakistan’s sociopathically violent Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) movement. The organization has murdered thousands, often relying on indiscriminant suicide bombs; has trained terrorists to attack the United States; and has remained closely aligned with al-Qaida. No one among the civilized will lament Mehsud’s passing. But because the United States did it, Pakistan has responded with outrage. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan called the U.S. action “a conspiracy to sabotage the peace talks” with the TTP—even though almost no one thinks those talks had much chance of success. Islamabad lodged a […]

Under new President Hasan Rouhani, Iran has moved swiftly to repair communication channels with the U.S. and speed up negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. So far, much attention has been paid to how Washington will react to Rouhani’s diplomatic outreach. But success in these negotiations will also necessitate an improved Iranian relationship with the European Union. While there is skepticism about how flexible the Islamic Republic can be and whether Presidents Hasan Rouhani and Barack Obama can deliver on whatever deal might come out of the negotiation process, an equally important question is what the EU can offer to get […]

On Jan. 21, 2009, President Barack Obama pledged to close the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The announcement’s timing and setting highlighted its importance. On just his second day in office, and flanked by former generals and admirals, the president had made it a top priority to shut the U.S. prison that had become synonymous with human rights abuses and lawlessness. That same day, Obama issued an order banning torture and closing secret CIA “black sites” in an effort to align America’s fight against al-Qaida and other terrorist groups with due process and the rule of law. Obama […]

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