One thing I’ve discovered from writing columns over the years is that they’re a great way to elicit invitations to sit down and talk with various players in the national security establishment. All you have to do is mention somebody’s office and you’re likely to get an e-mail from their public affairs officer eager to set your thinking straight. And so it was last week that I had the chance to converse with Ambassador John Herbst, three years in the job now as the State Department’s Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization. I earned the invitation by describing the CRS job […]

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Against my better instincts, I’m going to try to develop the thought that I pithily summarized yesterday by saying that I returned from a two-week vacation and media fast with the sense that the Middle East is “overrated” as a strategic focus of U.S. interests. Against my better instincts, because it goes against 40 years of U.S. strategic calculations, and involves an iconoclastic re-evaluation of the longterm impact of President George W. Bush’s ill-advised, badly intentioned and poorly conceived decision to invade Iraq. I will then try my best to publish the post before second thoughts lead me to dispatch […]

President Barack Obama came to power with a not-so-secret plan to reshape the Middle East. His team envisioned a fundamental realignment in the region, with an eye towards resolving a host of longstanding conflicts that made it a global focal point of political instability. A key element of that plan centered on one country: Syria. By reconstituting Washington’s relationship with Damascus, the reasoning went, Obama would manage to radiate improvements outward to a host of regional disputes. Seven months into the Obama administration, Washington’s efforts to pry Syria from its tight alliance with Iran and persuade it to start working […]

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The ongoing security fears every Iraqi grapples with are multiplied for members of the country’s gay community, which is being targeted for punishment by homegrown militias across the country, Human Rights Watch says in a new report. Several hundred men are believed to have lost their lives as a result of a campaign against gays that began in earnest in the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City earlier this year and has spread to other cities, according to the report, “They Want Us Exterminated: Murder, Torture, Sexual Orientation and Gender in Iraq.” Punishments carried out by militia members range from beatings […]

Will the White House approve even more troops for Afghanistan? As Gen. Stanley McChrystal reevaluates the war strategy, he has reportedly considered as many as 30,000 more, and he’s making a strong case. So much that an interview with the Wall Street Journal resulted in a front page headline declaring the, “Taliban Now Winning.” But the troop numbers don’t tell the whole story. Or, the story doesn’t tell all the troop numbers. Almost all counts circulated these days consist of “boots on the ground” assessments. Only, as a single measure, boots on the ground is only a part of the […]

To get a sense of what “complex operations” are, one need look no further than the kind of wars the U.S. fights when it intervenes overseas today. Unlike the total wars of the past, in which the U.S. military battled the national army of an enemy state, today’s struggles for security, stabilization, peace-building, reconstruction, and development in the most fragile states around the world are engaged by several different departments of the U.S. government. That’s it in a nutshell. But clearly, describing it is far easier than doing it. When you listen to how the best minds that are thinking […]

These are nerve-racking times at the Pentagon. For “Big War” adherents, Iraq is not looking like the “one off” that many hoped it would be, as Afghanistan-Pakistan appears to be, if anything, an even harder slog. None of the dominant Big War scenarios are looking good, now that Iran is ever closer to nuclear deterrence, North Korea ever closer to collapse, and Taiwan ever closer to a peace deal with Beijing. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, meanwhile, is locking in a more balanced take on small wars versus large, and the serious Leviathan budget-cutting has begun. Clearly, a tipping point […]