How to best explain Vladimir Putin’s zigzags on Ukraine? Over the past few months, spokesmen and leading officials have confidently made statements about Russian policy only to have the Russian leader suddenly change course. It can be quite confusing for analysts and commentators to assess Russia’s true intentions—and makes Putin look dangerously unpredictable. Putin’s long-term goals are clear: to prevent Ukraine’s full integration into the Euro-Atlantic world; to preserve some semblance of Ukraine’s former position as a neutral intermediary and buffer between Russia and the West; and to retain Russia’s special relationship with the country, particularly its southern and eastern […]

As extremists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria march on Baghdad and much of the Iraqi army runs away, there has been a torrent of writing from national security experts, journalists and pundits. This made it easy to miss an important story by Greg Jaffe and Kevin Mauer about American military veterans struggling to understand why the government and military that they worked so hard to create in Iraq has failed so miserably. This is more than simply soul searching: As Jaffe and Mauer noted, the outcome of this debate could have far reaching implications for the future […]

When the Obama administration took control of U.S. foreign policy in 2009, it undertook to mitigate what it considered the damage wrought by the George W. Bush team. The Iraq War was to be wound down, although, as it happens, more or less along the timeline laid down by the previous president. Afghanistan, the forgotten war, was to be quickly turned around by a judicious application of U.S resources and attention. A deft wielding of diplomacy would end the standoff with Iran, “reset” relations with Russia and bring China into a new dialogue to solve global problems. After the massive […]

When the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) launched its blitzkrieg assault on Iraq, it suddenly put the entire country in play, threatening its very existence. The rapid territorial gains by the ultra-extremist Sunni militant group put enormous pressure on the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But it is not only Maliki who faces difficult and urgent choices. The Iraqi crisis is also a pressing challenge for U.S. President Barack Obama. As Obama and his advisers survey the disastrous scene, examining the possible scenarios that could emerge from the crisis and weighing the options for Washington, all […]

For years Iraq has been a deeply troubled nation spiraling deeper and deeper into sectarian violence. The primary causes were Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s exclusion of Iraq’s Sunni Arabs from power and his politicization of the Iraqi military, which the United States expended so much money and effort to build. Then sparks from Syria’s civil war leapt back across the border to ignite Iraq’s political tinderbox. Yet even the most pessimistic observers did not foresee the events of the past two weeks, as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)—a jihadist movement so violent and extreme that al-Qaida disavowed […]

The United States has “a willing partner in the next Afghan president, whichever one it is,” said Supreme Allied Commander Europe Gen. Philip Breedlove last week. He said he was “extremely confident” that Afghanistan and the United States would be able to reach an agreement to keep in Afghanistan the 9,800 U.S. troops slated to remain there past the end of the year, when the NATO-led mission in the country officially ends. But the U.S. footprint in the country is shrinking, and if Breedlove’s confidence is misplaced, the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan could soon go to zero. The U.S. […]

Over the past two years, whenever Russia has undertaken steps in the international arena that the United States disapproves of, there has been a predictable response in Washington: a parade of somber-faced U.S. officials solemnly warning Moscow that its actions are opposed by the “international community” and that Russia risks isolation by its policy choices. Indeed, #RussiaIsolated has become the hashtag of choice in the State Department’s social media arsenal. Certainly, the U.S. has had some successes in turning the hashtag into reality: winning some symbolic votes at the United Nations; getting a coalition of states to impose limited sanctions […]

President Barack Obama has delivered a consistent message during his trans-Atlantic sojourn this week, including a stirring address in Warsaw, and hit all the right rhetorical notes. To Europeans concerned that the long-announced “rebalance to the Pacific” means less U.S. attention to their continent, the president reaffirmed that European security is the “cornerstone of our own security, and it is sacrosanct.” The former Soviet-bloc countries were promised that they “will never stand alone.” Now comes the hard part: translating words into policy. The initial signs are not encouraging. The president’s announced “reassurance plan” for European security, with a price tag […]

Against the backdrop of ongoing tensions with Russia, President Barack Obama began a four-day trip to Europe this week. His first stop was Poland, a NATO ally celebrating 25 years of independence from Soviet domination. As Obama stood next to Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, the situation in Ukraine was a central theme of his remarks. The United States and Poland are “absolutely united in the need to stand with the Ukrainian people as they move forward,” Obama declared. In Warsaw, Obama also announced a $1 billion “European Reassurance Initiative” to support regional partnerships and fund U.S. presence in the […]

For years, security experts have warned of the threat from “homegrown terrorists” inspired by al-Qaida’s violent ideology. While American jihadists have not yet pulled off an attack on the scale of 9/11, they were responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings of 2013. Other Western nations have been similarly unfortunate: Homegrown terrorists engineered the Madrid train bombings of 2004 and the London Underground bombings of 2005. And it could get worse as dozens or even hundreds of trained, experienced, radicalized fighters return home from conflicts in the Islamic world. The Syrian insurgency is the biggest concern. An estimated 11,000 foreign fighters […]

Speech Plus Action Needed for Obama Doctrine to Succeed

By the time you read this column, the American public and punditocracy alike will have moved on from President Barack Obama’s West Point speech—after all, five days is an eternity in today’s media landscape. But a question I was asked by Sirius XM’s Ari Rabin-Havt in commenting on Obama’s address has stuck in my mind. What would it take, Rabin-Havt asked, for Obama’s West Point speech to be remembered like the Marshall Plan speech? He was referring to George Marshall’s 1947 commencement address at Harvard, which laid out the need for major economic assistance to postwar Europe. The outlines of […]