Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at a rally, Janesville, Wis., March 29, 2016 (The Janesville Gazette photo by Anthony Wahl via AP).

When it comes to foreign policy and the U.S. presidential campaign, everything seems to have turned upside down this year. Neoconservative, Republican hawks, from Max Boot to Bill Kristol, are apoplectic over the rise of Donald Trump, particularly his lack of ardor for military intervention, his supposed opposition to the Iraq War, and his calls for the U.S to pull back from its global security responsibilities. Some, like Boot, have gone so far as to say they won’t vote for the GOP frontrunner, while others have suggested that Trump’s focus on burden-sharing and having U.S. allies take on more global […]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during a tour of Pha Tha Luang, Vientiane, Laos, Jan. 25, 2016 (AP photo by Jacquelyn Martin).

When Barack Obama traveled to Cuba in March, he became the first U.S. president in almost 90 years to set foot on the island nation. But during the final year of his presidency, he will become the first-ever sitting U.S. president to visit another communist-ruled former foe: Laos. In September, Obama will go to its capital, Vientiane, for the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Given Cuba’s proximity to Florida and the huge Cuban-American community in the United States, it is hardly surprising that Obama’s visit to Havana has attracted much more attention than his upcoming trip […]

The start of a plenary session at the Nuclear Security Summit, Seoul, South Korea, March, 27, 2012 (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais).

This week, President Barack Obama and 50 world leaders will convene for the fourth and final time to discuss how to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the hands of terrorists. This last gathering of the biannual Nuclear Security Summits comes at a particularly poignant moment, given what we know now about the Brussels terrorists’ interest in targeting nuclear facilities. For better or worse, the summits represent a more ad hoc approach to securing nuclear materials in particular, and advancing global cooperation on transnational threats in general. Since 2010, the Obama administration has organized four summits on nuclear security. Driven […]

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during a campaign rally, Seattle, Washington, March 22, 2016 (AP photo by Ted S. Warren).

With yet another European city touched by the scourge of jihadi terrorism, the focus of the U.S. presidential campaign quickly turned to the best way to protect America from the same threat. Not surprisingly, the responses of the Democratic and Republican frontrunners could not be more different. Hillary Clinton warned that “terrorists seek to undermine the democratic values that are the foundation of our alliance and our way of life.” She sounded resolute in arguing that “they will never succeed.” The response of Donald Trump, on the other hand, suggests that the terrorists already have. Calling the Brussels attack “just […]

A poster of Cuban President Raul Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama outside a restaurant in Havana, Cuba, March 17, 2016 (AP photo by Ramon Espinosa).

President Barack Obama’s trip to Cuba on March 21-22 marks a pivotal moment in the unfolding process of normalizing U.S.-Cuban relations. In the 15 months since Obama and Raul Castro declared the end of the cold war in the Caribbean on Dec. 17, 2014, there has been just enough progress to justify the historic presidential visit. But much remains to be done. By underscoring the commitment of both presidents to prioritize better relations in the time they have left in office, the trip should energize their government bureaucracies to accelerate the pace of change. After a slow start—it took six […]

President Barack Obama speaks during a reception in the East Room of the White House, Washington, March 16, 2016 (AP photo by Jacquelyn Martin).

Barack Obama took office in 2009 to great expectations, both at home and worldwide. His background and worldview, as expressed in his books, speeches and campaign rhetoric, seemed well-suited to the task of repairing America’s deeply damaged image in the aftermath of the Iraq War and the global financial crisis. With the country’s unipolar moment clearly waning, America would need to exercise a different kind of leadership, using its power in humbler and more consensual ways. Obama seemed like the right person for the job. Some pundits suggested he even had the potential to be a transformational president in terms […]

President Barack Obama speaks at St. Patrick's Day luncheon on Capitol Hill, Washington, March 15, 2016 (AP photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais).

For as long as Barack Obama has been president, his Republican critics have regularly accused him of being some sort of political radical. After reading the mammoth foreign policy profile of Obama by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic, I’m prepared to admit they are correct. Obama is a foreign policy radical, just not just for the reasons they think. What is perhaps most striking about Goldberg’s article and the interviews with Obama included in it is how distinctly Obama stands outside the foreign policy mainstream, and how willing he is to question the most prized of foreign policy sacred cows. […]

President Barack Obama walks back to the Oval Office of the White House, Washington, March 14, 2016 (AP photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais).

The American foreign policy community is abuzz over the remarkable essay by The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg on President Barack Obama’s legacy. The article provides ample evidence that Obama is a fine conceptual thinker with great insight into the evolution of international politics away from America’s “unipolar moment.” His successors may try to reverse or slow down the trends Obama identifies, but in the long run, they will find themselves following his path. As the remaining months of his presidency reach the single digits, Obama has offered us the first draft of his foreign policy legacy. In a wonderfully rich article […]

President Barack Obama after hosting a National Security Council meeting at the State Department, Washington, Feb. 25, 2016 (AP photo by Carolyn Kaster).

In last week’s column, I discussed two of the four enduring challenges that American strategists face: unrealistic expectations and a ponderous system for strategy formulation. This week’s column will take a look at the other two: the American public’s deep belief in “silver bullets,” and impatience. The American public’s trust in the idea of “silver bullets,” or the existence of a single solution to a complex problem, reflects the ingrained optimism of the American national culture. As children Americans are told that they “can be anything they want” if they try hard enough. While this kind of optimism is demonstrably […]

President Barack Obama at a meeting in the White House, Washington, March 4, 2016 (AP photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais).

Seven years ago, as he prepared to take office, Barack Obama made it clear that when it came to the issue of torture, his inclination was “to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.” Obama clearly believed that torture had taken place under the Bush administration; he declared unequivocally in January 2009 that “waterboarding is torture.” But Obama decided that opening up questions about the practices the Bush administration had authorized could do more harm than good, and would be a distraction from his larger political agenda. To a large degree, he was right. It’s highly unlikely that prosecuting Bush […]

A man watches a TV news program showing footage of a North Korean missile launch, Seoul, South Korea, March 3, 2016 (AP photo by Ahn Young-joon).

North Korea’s recent provocations—a nuclear test in January and a missile test, under the guise of a peaceful satellite launch, a month later—have pressed the United States, along with its key regional allies, South Korea and Japan, into recalibrating Washington’s failed policy of so-called strategic patience with Pyongyang. Concerns about North Korea’s aggressive behavior coupled with ineffective responses thus far have prompted Washington, Seoul and Tokyo to stress that there can be no more maintenance of the status-quo when it comes to deterrence. In addition to seeking new and more-robust sanctions at the United Nations Security Council, one of the […]

U. S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter addresses U.S. troops as he stands in front of a drone, Incirlik Air Base, Adana, Turkey, Dec. 15, 2015 (AP photo).

The use of unmanned aerial vehicles for lethal purposes has generated passionate debates about how this not-so-new technology has changed the rules of war, creating a demand for new global norms. On the domestic front, drone technology raises difficult public policy issues related to commerce, ethics, air safety and good government. The Obama administration’s recent decision to release its policy guidance for drone use will help temper public misgivings, but the debate will continue. Last week, the Obama administration indicated that it will release the policy guidance used by U.S. national security agencies for use of unmanned aerial vehicles in […]

U.S. President Barack Obama during an event with Young South Asian Youth Leaders at Yangon University, Myanmar, Nov. 14, 2014 (AP photo by Gemunu Amarasinghe).

Over the past year, the Obama administration has rapidly repaired diplomatic and economic ties with Cuba. Last month, in the latest of many agreements, Washington and Havana signed a deal restoring commercial flights between the two countries for the first time in more than 50 years, just as the White House approved construction of the first U.S. factory in Cuba since the 1960 embargo. The outreach is an attempt, according to President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, to ensure that the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement is nearly irreversible by the time Obama leaves office. To further cement ties, Obama […]

President Barack Obama hosts a meeting of his National Security Council (NSC) at the State Department, Washington, Feb. 25, 2016 (AP photo by Carolyn Kaster).

America’s role in the global security system, first forged in World War II and solidified during the Cold War, is changing. After decades in which the United States was relied upon to manage regional security, other nations are now concluding that they can get by without deferring to Washington. At the same time, America’s adversaries, whether Russia and China or nonstate enemies like al-Qaida and the self-declared Islamic State, have found ways to avoid American strengths and capitalize on American weaknesses. Internally, Americans are less willing to defend far away places at the expense of domestic needs. They increasingly ask […]

A Libyan in front of damaged buildings, Benghazi, Feb. 23, 2016 (AP photo by Mohammed el-Shaiky).

Last week, U.S. warplanes bombed the Libyan town of Sabratha, targeting militants of the self-declared Islamic State. The move is the most recent illustration of the dilemma presented by Libya’s political and security stalemate, characterized by political infighting and militia violence. The Islamic State’s emergence in the country in early 2015 has given the situation regional implications. The United States is weighing its next steps, amid ongoing questions about its role in the 2011 NATO intervention that some see as the source of today’s chaos. The following articles are free for nonsubscribers until March 17. Stabilizing a Chaotic Libya Libya’s […]

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies before the House Benghazi Committee, Washington, Oct. 22, 2015 (AP photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta).

Over the weekend, The New York Times ran two major articles looking at Hillary Clinton’s role in the Obama administration’s deliberations over whether or not to intervene in the Libyan civil war in 2011. They offer what is, at times, a damning critique that portrays Clinton, then the U.S. secretary of state, as eager to get involved in Libya, but less interested in what might come after the U.S. intervention. A deeper look at the articles, however, suggests a greater indictment of President Barack Obama for his willingness to get involved in Libya but not to see the mission through. […]

FBI Director James Comey and Director of the National Intelligence James Clapper at the Senate Intelligence Committee's hearing on worldwide threats, Washington, Feb. 9, 2016 (AP photo by Alex Brandon).

Every year in February, the heads of U.S. intelligence agencies present Congress with an unclassified threat assessment. The quality of the document this year is uneven, and it’s clear that intelligence leaders remain conflicted about how much of their knowledge belongs in the public domain. But the annual ritual has some value in pushing the intelligence bureaucracy to clarify its thinking on key issues, and can set a framework for a productive partnership with policymakers. Last week, WPR columnist Michael Cohen argued that the annual Worldwide Threat Assessment, as the report and accompanying congressional testimony is known, amounts to fear-mongering […]