Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, British Prime Minister Theresa May, U.S. President Donald Trump and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during a meeting at NATO’s headquarters, Brussels, May 25, 2017 (AP photo by Matt Dunham).

What would the United States lose if it lost Europe as a friend, partner and ally? The question is an abstract one for now. But if his inaugural presidential trip abroad last week is any indication, U.S. President Donald Trump seems hell-bent on finding out what the real-life answer would be. Any European leaders watching the first two legs of Trump’s trip would have been understandably encouraged and even optimistic about the prospects for their first meeting with the new American president. Four months in office had already served to soften the iconoclastic declarations he made as a candidate into […]

Zbigniew Brzezinski, left, walks with U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Secretary of State Cyrus Vance toward a helicopter to fly to Andrews Air Force Base, Feb. 14, 1979 (AP photo by Bob Daugherty).

The death this past week of former National Security Adviser and foreign policy intellectual Zbigniew Brzezinski calls to mind two thoughts: how rare the gift of strategic thinking, which Brzezinski possessed, truly is; and how great a contribution foreign-born intellectuals have made to U.S. foreign policy in the post-World War II era. The foreign policy community lost one of the rare big thinkers with the death of Brzezinski at age 89 this past week. He was a commanding figure, always assessing the crises of the day with a long-term view of strategic interests. He served a Democratic president, Jimmy Carter, […]

President Donald Trump delivers a speech to the Arab Islamic American Summit, at the King Abdulaziz Conference Center, May 21, 2017, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump railed at the ineffectiveness of Barack Obama’s Middle East policy, promising that if he was elected there would be dramatic change. Yet candidate Trump offered few details on precisely what he would do differently. This week his first foreign trip as president began in the Middle East. While there, Trump provided signs of exactly what he intends to do in the region. In terms of broad strategic objectives there is some continuity between the two presidential administrations. Like Obama, Trump seeks to preserve the Middle East’s regional order and help protect Israel and […]

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte during an arrival honor at Manila's international airport, Philippines, May 24, 2017 (AP photo by Aaron Favila).

This past week, Southeast Asia observers have been buzzing over a leaked transcript of a phone call, made in April, between U.S. President Donald Trump and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. In the call, the two men spoke of each other warmly, with Trump praising Duterte’s brutal drug war in the Philippines. Trump told Duterte he was “doing an unbelievable job on the drug problem,” and invited him to the White House. Trump also seemed to ask Duterte, hardly a specialist on Northeast Asia, for advice on how to deal with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and his nuclear and […]

President Donald Trump reaches to shake hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, May 16, 2017 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

When U.S. President Donald Trump delivered his speech on Islam to a gathering of Muslim and Arab leaders in Riyadh last weekend, one head of state was notably absent among the dozens of kings, sultans, emirs, presidents and prime ministers in the audience. Turkey, one of the Muslim world’s most powerful states, chose to send its minister of foreign affairs, a much lower-ranking official than the top-level representatives in the lavish hall. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had recently visited Saudi Arabia and had met with Trump in Washington only days earlier, with the two men declaring the meeting a […]

An Army Cadet displays a sign for then President-elect Donald Trump during the Army-Navy NCAA college football game, Baltimore, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016 (AP photo by Patrick Semansky).

As U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration navigates the conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan, along with ongoing tensions with North Korea, China and Russia, it is doing so with a Cabinet largely composed of active and retired military generals. While the presence of an active-duty general at the helm of the National Security Council is not unprecedented, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, isn’t the sole appointee with a military background; two recently retired Marines, James Mattis and John Kelly, are serving as secretary of defense and director of the Department of Homeland Security, respectively. That Kelly and Mattis […]

President Donald Trump delivers a speech to the Arab Islamic American Summit, at the King Abdulaziz Conference Center, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, May 21, 2017 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

Has Donald Trump lost faith in realpolitik? On the campaign trail, the U.S. president promised to adopt a hard-nosed approach to promoting America’s interests. He ostentatiously spurned the stock talking points about his country’s values and global mission that most presidential candidates tend to trot out. Since taking office, Trump and his advisers have sometimes repeated the case for a cold-eyed approach to foreign affairs. The president told one interviewer that the U.S. is not morally superior to Russia. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has warned diplomats that an excessive emphasis on advancing American values “really creates obstacles to our […]

Workers hang Israeli and U.S. flags ahead of President Donald Trump's visit, Jerusalem, May 18, 2017 (AP photo by Sebastian Scheiner).

Four months into his administration, U.S. President Donald Trump’s foreign and national security policy is still a work in progress, a shifting, improvisational blend of diverse, sometimes conflicting themes and attitudes. It has elements of the traditional American approach to the world but also much that is unorthodox. When it comes to the Trump strategy, the traditional and the nontraditional seem locked in a daily struggle for dominance. Now Trump is leaving on his first major international trip. In a best-case scenario, the results may indicate the direction he will take during the rest of his administration and demonstrate Trump’s […]

People walk past a caricature picture of U.S. President Donald Trump on sale in a shopping mall in Moscow, Russia, May 17, 2017 (AP photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko).

If there is a prayer on the lips of international affairs columnists these days, it goes something like this: Please let there be something to write about other than Donald Trump this week, and if it has to be Trump, please let me publish it before the next news cycle makes whatever I’ve written irrelevant or obsolete. Having already settled on a Trump topic before the latest self-created crises to buffet the White House broke, suffice it to say I’m typing as fast as I can. As we now know because he himself admitted it, during his Oval Office meeting […]

Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is escorted to his car by President Donald Trump as he leaves the West Wing of the White House in Washington, Feb. 15, 2017 (AP photo by Carolyn Kaster).

U.S. President Donald Trump’s first overseas trip will begin in Saudi Arabia and Israel, two countries whose leaders have vocally welcomed Trump’s shift in approach to the region compared to his predecessor, Barack Obama. But the new president’s unpredictable nature means that neither country can take anything for granted during his visit. The White House has previewed the president’s trip, which will also take him to Italy for the G-7 Summit in Sicily and a meeting with the Pope, and Brussels for the NATO Summit. Trump’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, briefed the press Friday, outlining an ambitious […]

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres talks to Syrian refugees in a classroom at the U.N.-run Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees, northern Jordan, March 28, 2017 (AP photos by Raad Adayleh).

Can Antonio Guterres save the United Nations from the tyranny of overinflated expectations? The U.N. secretary-general, who has been on the job for four months, seems clear about the limitations of his post. When the Security Council selected Guterres for the job last October, he declared that the Syrian war would be his top priority. But speaking in London last week, he implied he could not do much about it. Peace will only be possible, Guterres noted, “when all the parties in the conflict understand and believe they cannot win the war.” This is not exactly a revelation: U.N. officials […]

A U.S. soldier mans a gun aboard the helicopter carrying U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to Resolute Support headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 24, 2017 (Pool photo by Jonathan Ernst via AP)

Earlier this week, Pentagon officials confirmed that Abdul Hasib Logari, the leader of the self-proclaimed Islamic State’s Afghan affiliate, had been killed in a joint U.S.-Afghan operation in eastern Afghanistan on April 27. That operation, in which two U.S. Army Rangers were also killed, followed an airstrike by U.S. forces in Afghanistan that dropped a GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb, or “MOAB,” on an Islamic State tunnel complex. The bomb is one of the largest conventional weapons in the U.S. arsenal and represented a dramatic escalation of American operations against the Islamic State affiliate, known as the Khorasan Province. […]

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives to speak to State Department employees, Washington, May 3, 2017 (AP photo by Jacquelyn Martin).

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson finally met with the State Department’s workforce to outline how President Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda applies to foreign policy. In his remarks, Tillerson focused on the core mission of national security. He insisted that American values still matter, but was clear that the U.S. is no longer in the business of promoting those values as universal aspirations. It’s a big loss for American influence in the world. When the State Department employees gathered last week to hear from their boss, they were braced for more details about budget cuts and downsizing. […]

Security forces inspect the site of a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 3, 2017 (AP photo by Massoud Hossaini).

U.S. President Donald Trump probably does not relish taking on a problem like the conflict in Afghanistan. It is a “wicked” problem, intricate and almost incomprehensibly complex, with a large and growing cast of participants playing a role or at least having a stake. Inside Afghanistan there is a mesh of actors with clashing, often incompatible goals. Outside the country a solution depends on Pakistan, which deeply fears India and has its own growing jihadi problem. Russia and the self-styled Islamic State, while late to the conflict, are now involved and muddling things even further. But despite all this, Trump […]

A protester shouts while displaying an anti-Donald Trump placard during a rally at the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines to coincide with Trump's inauguration, Manila, Jan. 20, 2017 (AP photo by Bullit Marquez).

Observers around the world have found many of the statements coming out of the White House in recent days deeply unsettling. That is nothing new in the era of President Donald Trump. But within the overall stream of Trump’s controversial pronouncements, there is one current that contains important clues about what lies ahead in his presidency. Since taking office little more than 100 days ago, Trump has reversed course on countless issues, including major matters of foreign policy. But he has remained remarkably consistent in his praise of authoritarian leaders. It has become indisputable that respect for strongmen is a […]

A U.S. Army Special Forces captain speaks with troops from the Central African Republic and Uganda searching for warlord Joseph Kony, Obo, Central African Republic, April 29, 2012 (AP photo by Ben Curtis).

Uganda recently began withdrawing troops from the Central African Republic that had been tasked with hunting Joseph Kony, the notorious leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group. Kony founded the LRA in 1987 in northern Uganda, and his fighters became notorious for abducting children and forcing them to serve as soldiers and sex slaves. The rebel leader remains at large, but Uganda’s military recently said the group’s “means of making war against Uganda have been degraded” and that LRA commanders had “been killed, captured or surrendered.” Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the commander of U.S. Africa Command, offered a similar […]

President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago, Palm Beach, Fla., April 7, 2017 (AP photo by Alex Brandon).

More than 100 days into Donald Trump’s term in office, a good deal of uncertainty still surrounds the new president’s approach to foreign policy, mainly due to his unpredictable temperament. Other things have become clearer, though. Trump might be able to change the U.S. presidency; in some ways he already has. By contrast, the world and the international order that governs it have proven more stubborn in their resistance to being refashioned, as has the architecture of alliances, partnerships and rivalries that structure U.S. foreign policy. Gravity, it seems, still exists, and it exercises its pull on everyone, even those […]

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