Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, center, speaks during a peace conference at the Presidential Palace, Kabul, June 6, 2017 (AP photo by Rahmat Gul).

With the Trump White House abdicating decision-making authority over the Afghan war to the Pentagon, it’s only a matter of time until the United States escalates troop levels in Afghanistan again. The security situation in the country is dire, with the Taliban in control of more territory than at any point since the 2001 invasion and momentum on its side. The situation for Afghan civilians remains terrifying, with a spate of recent attacks highlighting how little progress has been made in America’s longest war. If things weren’t bad enough, Afghanistan is also in the grips of a festering political crisis, […]

President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May at the White House, Washington, Jan. 27, 2017 (AP photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais).

It is hard to believe the degree of shock most of us felt this time last year at the outcome of the Brexit referendum, given everything that has transpired since then. The resentment many Britons felt toward the European Union was no secret, nor was the fact that London’s relationship to Brussels had historically been lukewarm at best. But for all its flaws, the EU was a known commodity. Brexit, in contrast, represented a deep tangle of unknowns, both economic and political, with most of the debate being over the extent of the damage and devastation it would wreak on […]

Former U.S. President Barack Obama and former FBI Director James Comey attend Comey’s installation ceremony at the FBI’s headquarters, Washington, Oct. 28, 2013 (AP photo by Charles Dharapak).

A Washington Post exposé published Friday revealed new insights into the Obama administration’s real-time reaction to mounting evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The administration’s agonizing efforts to find a commensurate response, while avoiding escalation and the perception it was seeking to influence the election, will be interpreted through a mean-spirited partisan prism. That’s too bad, because there are sober lessons about politics and policymaking that should be considered across the partisan divide. The Obama administration struggled to find appropriate countermeasures to Russian meddling in the final weeks of its time in office, according to the […]

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with officials from Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador during the Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America, Miami, June 15, 2017 (AP photo by Wilfredo Lee).

Over two days in Miami earlier this month, the leaders of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador met with officials from the United States and Mexico to discuss the longstanding challenges of combating transnational crime, narcotrafficking and corruption in Central America. Any discussion of migration policy, however, was explicitly off the table at the Conference on Prosperity and Security, which included U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. Despite brutal conditions in the region that have driven a spike in migration north in recent years, the Trump administration’s narrow priorities in Central […]

A U.S. Navy F-18 fighter jet lands on the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson following a patrol in the South China Sea, March 3, 2017 (AP photo by Bullit Marquez).

On June 21, the United States and China held their first-ever Diplomatic and Security Dialogue in Washington. The dialogue, co-chaired on the American side by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, is a new iteration of engagement that evolved from the April meeting between President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, at Mar-a-Lago. Along with other newly created discussions on trade and law enforcement issues, the dialogue is aimed at narrowing the focus of the former U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, which met annually during the Obama administration. Unfortunately, when it comes to […]

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley addresses the Security Council after a vote to sanction North Korea, New York, June 2, 2017 (AP photo by Bebeto Matthews).

Can the Trump administration give the General Assembly of the United Nations a new sense of purpose? This may sound like an uproariously silly question. The assembly, in which all U.N. member states are theoretically equals, is largely a geopolitical backwater. It churns out hundreds of resolutions each year, and the vast majority of these are unimportant. Few people are probably aware that the assembly passed a lengthy resolution on the political status of Bermuda last year, for example, and even fewer are likely to be excited that it did so. Yet the assembly can cause the occasional kerfuffle. Last […]

A hotel staff member mops the floor in front of a picture featuring portraits of the late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung, left, and Kim Jong Il, Pyongyang, North Korea, June 19, 2017 (AP photo by Wong Maye-E).

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part column. The first part can be found here. America’s military involvement in Syria topped this week’s headlines, but North Korea remains the most dangerous security problem the United States faces. Pyongyang has not engaged in any outright military provocations for a few weeks. But the death of Otto Warmbier, an American student arrested in Pyongyang a year ago and returned last week in an unexplained comatose state, has amplified anger against the bizarre Kim Jong Un regime and led to calls for expanded sanctions against it. On Tuesday, U.S. President Donald […]

European Council President Donald Tusk walks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at the EU-China summit, Brussels, June 2, 2017 (AP photo by Virginia Mayo).

After the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president, many analysts expected that relations between the European Union and China would enter a honeymoon phase. Facing a protectionist and potentially destabilizing period in U.S. foreign policy, Europe and China would necessarily have to cooperate more closely on issues ranging from climate change to trade, in order to head off threats to the very future of globalization. The recent EU-China summit, taking place the day after Trump’s announcement of the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, would have been the natural occasion to showcase this new alignment, which would represent […]

Defense Secretary James Mattis looks over his notes before a news conference at the Pentagon to give an update on the Islamic State group, Washington, May 19, 2017 (AP photo by Jacquelyn Martin).

As the fight against the so-called Islamic State approaches its endgame, the United States seems to be stumbling its way up the escalation ladder in Syria. Repeated U.S. airstrikes against Syrian forces and allied militias in southeastern Syria had already caused alarm that the U.S. might be drawn deeper into the country’s civil war. The downing of a Syrian warplane by a U.S. fighter jet over the weekend punctuated those concerns. In response, Russia announced it would suspend the use of a communication channel to “deconflict” air operations over Syria—that is, avoid unintended confrontations between Russian and American jets—although the […]

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha during a press conference, Bangkok, Thailand, May 23, 2017 (AP photo by Sakchai Lalit).

In July, according to spokespeople for Thailand’s government, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha will come to Washington for a White House visit. It promises to be a substantial diplomatic and reputational boost for both Prayuth, who led the coup in May 2014 that deposed Thailand’s most recent elected government, and the junta running Thailand, which remains a U.S. treaty ally. Former President Barack Obama did not offer Prayuth a White House invitation, although Obama did meet with him as part of a summit in California of Southeast Asian leaders in February 2016. The Thai junta repeatedly expressed anger at the Obama […]

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, right, accompanied by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, waves to his supporters during a campaign rally, Isfahan, Iran, May 14, 2017 (AP photo by Vahid Salemi).

Last week, the U.S. Senate passed a bill imposing new sanctions on Iran and Russia. Even if the bill makes it through the legislative process to become law, it should not derail the 2015 agreement that curtails Iran’s nuclear activities. But more intangible factors, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent comments on the Iranian regime, could do harm to the agreement’s durability. The sustainability of the Iran nuclear agreement, one of former President Barack Obama’s signature foreign policy achievements, has been in doubt since Donald Trump’s presidential election. On the campaign, Trump mocked the agreement and suggested that he […]

A tour bus in front of the Capitolio, Cuba’s National Capitol Building, Havana, June 17, 2017 (AP photo by Ramon Espinosa).

“Effective immediately, I am canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba,” President Donald Trump told a cheering crowd of Cuban exiles in Miami on June 16. That declaration was not quite true, since there was no single deal to cancel. President Barack Obama’s opening to Cuba included a series of bilateral agreements on issues of mutual interest and five packages of regulatory changes to the U.S. embargo that Obama made unilaterally in order to boost travel and trade. Trump’s new policy, embodied in a Presidential Memorandum, partially closes two holes that Obama punched in the embargo. First, Trump’s […]

A French soldier stands alongside troops who helped France take back Mali’s north as they participate in a ceremony formally transforming the force into a United Nations peacekeeping mission, Bamako, Mali, July 1, 2013 (AP photo by Harouna Traore).

There is a lot of talk at the United Nations about tailoring peace operations to address the specific needs of the countries and communities that they serve. But from the vantage of the Security Council, there are really only two types of peacekeeping missions: the ones the French like, and the ones the Americans and British like. The entire edifice of U.N. operations rests on a delicate network of bargains among Paris, London and Washington about how to balance these two groups of missions. France has pushed for peacekeepers in a series of its former colonies including Cote d’Ivoire, Mali […]

Rural midwives return home after shopping at the market in Patzun, Guatemala, Sept. 2, 2008 (AP photo by Rodrigo Abd).

In addressing the root causes of migration, building allies, developing markets and advancing U.S. interests, the Inter-American Foundation provides the best dollar-for-dollar return on U.S. investment in Latin America. Yet the Trump administration wants to end it. An independent agency of the U.S. government, the IAF has funded local development projects throughout Latin America and the Caribbean since its creation in 1969. The Trump administration’s budget proposes shutting it down to save a mere $22.5 million in appropriations this year. The administration’s budget would cut funding to the IAF to just $4.6 million in the 2018 fiscal year, with nothing […]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of the ruling Justice and Development Party, Ankara, June 13, 2017 (Pool photo via AP).

As the dust settles from President Donald Trump’s first visit to the Middle East, his policy in the region, such as it exists, is harkening back to the years before his predecessor, Barack Obama. Obama only sought minor recalibrations in long-standing U.S. policy toward its allies in the region, and his criticisms of them amounted to the mildest rebukes. But Trump’s visit made it clear that Saudi Arabia and Israel are, once again, the unmistakable pillars of America’s Middle East posture. Egypt also seems more firmly in the U.S. orbit than ever, given Trump and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi’s mutual […]

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic inspects the Guard of Honor during an inauguration ceremony, Belgrade, May 31, 2017 (AP photo by Marko Drobnjakovic).

In late April and into May, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia, Hoyt Yee, made several visits and high-level phone calls to the countries of the Western Balkans. These states have been wracked by corruption scandals and governing standoffs that have raised questions about the effectiveness of American assistance. Yee’s efforts have yielded some positive outcomes. But they also made clear that American diplomacy alone cannot provide the longer-term solutions to the region’s nagging political and economic problems. After Yee’s visit to Skopje on April 29, Gjorge Ivanov, Macedonia’s president, finally gave the opposition party […]

Members of a U.S. Air Force munitions team assemble guided bombs to support the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing, al-Udeid Air Base, Qatar, March 10, 2015 (AP photo by Adam Schrek).

Americans generally don’t think much about where their nation’s military bases are located around the world, but they probably should. For most of the past century, a pillar of U.S. strategy has been to address threats and defeat enemies as far away from the homeland as possible. This makes security partnerships and forward presence important. And that requires bases. During the Cold War, stationing military forces abroad was a sign of commitment to allies, assuring them that America would be there if they were attacked. This helped deter aggressors. If deterrence failed, the thinking went, foreign bases would make it […]

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