U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski visits with Sheikh Ali Salman, head of Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, in Manama, Bahrain, July 6, 2014 (AP Photo/Al Wifaq).

The fallout from Bahrain’s expulsion of Tom Malinowski, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, illustrates the continuing political impasse in this deeply polarized U.S. ally in the Persian Gulf. While the danger to the ruling Al Khalifa family posed by the 2011 popular uprising has long passed, positions on all sides have hardened, with little prospect of any political settlement to Bahrain’s deep-rooted inequalities. A fragile stasis has instead developed between a Bahraini government unwilling to make meaningful political concessions and a fragmented opposition unable to mount a serious challenge to the status quo. […]

Missile launchers on the deck of the Chinese destroyer Haikou, U.S. Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, July 5, 2014 (Kyodo via AP Images).

On July 23, China conducted its third declared ballistic missile defense (BMD) test in the past four years, with the Defense Ministry announcing afterward that the test had “achieved the desired objectives.” But it would be premature to conclude that Beijing now embraces BMD. China lacks the capabilities to establish an operational missile defense network, even as Chinese officials continue to attack U.S.-sponsored BMD efforts. Instead, the recent tests are designed primarily to overcome adversary missile defenses as well as to develop China’s anti-satellite systems, a capability renounced by the United States as strategically destabilizing, which ironically is the same […]

President Barack Obama speaks about escalating sanctions against Russia in response to the crisis in Ukraine at the White House in Washington, July 16, 2014 (AP photo by Charles Dharapak).

It is axiomatic that almost any foreign policy action taken by President Barack Obama will be reflexively criticized by the Republican opposition. What is striking is how, in recent months, congressional Democrats and former Obama administration officials have been more willing to publicly voice their own critiques of the president’s performance. Even his first-term secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, now positioning herself for a possible 2016 run to succeed him as chief executive, has begun to lay out her differences with Obama on how he has handled the national security portfolio. Most of the critiques follow a common narrative: that […]

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and the Indian navy fleet oiler INS Shakti conduct a refueling at sea exercise, Indian Ocean, April 13, 2012 (U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Apprentice Andrew K. Haller).

Yesterday India and the United States kicked off the 2014 Malabar naval exercise, the latest in a series of joint exercises going back over two decades, with the Japanese navy participating as well. This serves as an opportunity for the United States to demonstrate its commitment to naval engagement in the region, to reassure nervous allies in the face of an expansionist China and to refocus the U.S.-India relationship, which is widely seen as off track. The exercise will consist of activities on and around Japanese territory. According to a statement from the Indian navy, the exercise will include exchanges […]

Afghan security forces inspect the site of a suicide attack in the city of Kandahar south of Kabul, Afghanistan, July 9, 2014 (AP photo by Allauddin Khan).

While the world’s attention this week was focused on Gaza and Ukraine, security remained precarious in Iraq and Afghanistan, the two lynchpins of America’s conflict with transnational terrorism. The recent elections in Afghanistan offered a glimmer of optimism, but neither the Taliban’s ability nor its willingness to launch terrorist attacks has abated. There is no sign that the Afghan security forces will someday be able to defeat the movement. Meanwhile, the Iraqi military cannot reverse the advances of ISIS extremists, and there is no sign that a competent, inclusive government will emerge in Baghdad. Iraq and Afghanistan remain stark reminders […]

Flor Garcia, 19, of Honduras, holding her one-year-old daughter, turned themselves over to Customs and Border Protection Services agents after crossing the Rio Grande from Mexico near McAllen, Texas, July 3, 2014 (AP photo by Rodolfo Gonzalez).

The United States, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are frantically trying to address the humanitarian crisis unfolding on both the U.S. border and in Central America’s Northern Triangle. Children and families have been fleeing from that region to the United States in record numbers since 2009, although the numbers have spiked dramatically in the past two years. Approximately 60,000 unaccompanied minors—children under 18 traveling without an adult—have been apprehended at the U.S. border since Oct. 1, overwhelming an immigration system designed to handle 6,000 to 7,000 in that time. Another 39,000 families, mostly women and children, have been taken into […]

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks after closed-door nuclear talks, Vienna, Austria, July 15, 2014 (AP photo by Ronald Zak).

The original July 20 deadline for the P5+1 countries to reach a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran has come and gone. The negotiating parties have given themselves four more months to address what U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday called “very real gaps in some areas.” The extension includes allowing Iran to access $2.8 billion of its restricted assets. Kerry, however, stressed that “the vast majority of its frozen oil revenues will remain inaccessible” and the United States will “continue to vigorously enforce the sanctions that remain in place.” That has many in Washington debating the effect of […]

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden at the World Cup soccer match between Ghana and the United States, Natal, Brazil, June 16, 2014 (AP photo by Julio Cortez).

The United States missed out on a rare geopolitical opportunity this past week. Vice President Joe Biden, who has emerged in Barack Obama’s second term as more of an alter ego for the president on both the domestic and international stages, should have taken a short trip to Brazil for the World Cup final. Sure, the U.S. team had already been eliminated, but as the fabled “reassurer” who travels to different parts of the globe to shore up American commitments, Biden still had a plausible excuse to drop in at the close of the tournament: to congratulate Brazil on a […]

A woman walks at the site of the crashed Malaysia Airlines passenger plane near the village of Rozsypne, eastern Ukraine, July 18, 2014 (AP photo by Dmitry Lovetsky).

Yesterday’s downing of Malaysian commercial airliner MH17 near Donetsk, killing 298 civilian passengers and crewmen, marks a shocking turn in the ongoing conflict over eastern Ukraine. New information is still coming out, but as of this writing we know that some of the passengers were researchers and activists heading to an international AIDS conference in Melbourne.* At least nine nationalities were represented on board, ranging from the Netherlands to the Philippines, and possibly, though the State Department has yet to confirm, some number of Americans. While nothing has been conclusively proven, all signs point to a surface-to-air missile launched by […]

Chinese President Xi Jinping at Seoul National University, South Korea, July 4, 2014 (photo from the website of the Republic of Korea licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license).

SEOUL, South Korea—Washington’s plan to shift its attention toward Asia, the famed “pivot,” has been postponed or at least slowed by the rash of crises in the Middle East over the past three years. But East Asia, as it turns out, is not waiting for the U.S. Major countries in the region, including America’s key allies and its top emerging rival, are actively jockeying for influence, assertively reassessing relations with their neighbors and generally stirring for what could become a significant realignment of power in the world’s fastest-growing region. America’s strategic and diplomatic position on the eastern shores of Asia […]

Flor Garcia, 19, of Honduras, holding her one-year-old daughter, turned themselves over to Customs and Border Protection Services agents after crossing the Rio Grande from Mexico near McAllen, Texas, July 3, 2014 (AP photo by Rodolfo Gonzalez).

The rapid influx of migrants from Central America, many of them children, into the United States from Mexico has created political and logistical turmoil in Washington over how to respond. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and others have pushed for the United States to treat at least some of these children as refugees, given that many are fleeing violence and deprivation back home. In a statement last week, the UNHCR called on the United States to provide access to “asylum determination procedures” as part of a comprehensive solution. That could have a major impact on U.S. immigration […]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry raises hands with Afghan presidential candidates Ashraf Ghani, left, and Abdullah Abdullah, right, at the United Nations Mission Headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 12, 2014 (U.S. State Department photo).

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s shuttle diplomacy in Kabul this weekend paved the way to resolving Afghanistan’s current election crisis, while helping to establish a potential framework for addressing more-enduring problems embedded in that country’s political system. In so doing, Kerry’s effort fortified Afghanistan’s ability to overcome future political challenges with less dependence on U.S. intervention and support. Despite the successful deal-making, however, Afghanistan continues to face major challenges. Kerry’s trip proved essential for resolving the immediate crisis caused by Abdullah Abdullah’s refusal to accept that his rival, Ashraf Ghani, had overcome a weak first-round showing to surge ahead […]

Protest in Caracas, Venezuela, Feb. 15, 2014 (photo by Flickr user andresAzp licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license).

With political unrest ongoing in Venezuela, calls for making President Nicolas Maduro’s government pay a price for its harsh handling of the crisis are gaining ground in Washington. Congress is considering legislation to impose targeted or smart sanctions against officials in the Maduro government responsible for human rights violations against demonstrators during the protests that shook the country in February and March. But the Obama administration is reluctant, hoping to avoid being drawn into the hornet’s nest between the government and the opposition. Two things shape the administration’s logic. First, the Venezuelan opposition, despite its divisions and limited options for […]

Iraqi army soldier, Ameriyah, Iraq, July 21, 2005 (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Thomas Benoit).

The collapse of the Iraqi army as it faced an extremist onslaught shocked many Americans, particularly those who had worked hard to help create it. The $25 billion of American money and seven years of intense effort seemed wasted as four of Iraq’s 14 divisions simply crumbled. In Washington, flustered policymakers and military leaders scrambled, searching for an effective response and trying to understand how the disaster happened. In the flurry of finger-pointing, pundits and politicians missed the bigger issue: The slow reaction to Iraq’s failure is one more manifestation of a deep flaw in the way Americans think about […]

The ongoing civil war in Syria has spread across the Iraqi border in recent months, putting Iraq back at the center of the region’s security agenda. As the forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) take control over a large part of Iraq, the Kurdish population has become increasingly assertive in the pursuit of its own autonomy, and Iraq has once again become a policy challenge for Washington. This report examines the implications of the growing conflict for Iraq, the U.S., Syria and a potentially independent Kurdistan, drawing on articles published in the past year. ISIS in […]

Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator, at the seventh meeting of the Syria Humanitarian Forum, Geneva, Switzerland, Feb. 19, 2013 (U.N. photo by Jean-Marc Ferré).

The Syrian war, currently overshadowed by its offshoot in Iraq, remains a ruinous blight on international diplomacy. Nearly half a year after the furiously hyped but fundamentally hopeless peace talks between the government and moderate rebels in Geneva, no end to the fighting is in sight. President Barack Obama has requested $500 million from Congress to train and equip rebel forces, suggesting that he is resigned to an extended proxy war with Russia and Iran, which continue to assist Damascus. Yet while the Geneva talks petered out in February, remnants of international cooperation over Syria have survived. Moscow and Washington […]

Indian coast guards ride on a boat near the Russian-built Kudankulam Atomic Power Project, Oct. 8, 2012 (AP photo by Arun Sankar K).

On June 22, India announced that it had ratified an additional protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), marking the country’s latest measure to implement a controversial nuclear cooperation agreement reached with the United States in 2008. However, this marginal step forward should not obscure the fact that the pact has yet to produce the promised economic benefits for the two countries. Meanwhile, its strategic benefits have been decidedly mixed, including striking a significant blow to the nonproliferation regime. Between 2005 and 2008, the Bush administration and the Indian government reached agreement and won support in their legislatures and […]

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