In this undated file photo, militants of the Islamic State group hold up their weapons and wave its flags on their vehicles in a convoy on a road leading to Iraq from Raqqa, Syria (Militant website via AP).

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to intervene militarily in Syria and work with Iran and Iraq to defeat the Islamic State has been met with a rather predictable response among Washington pundits: Putin is strong, and Barack Obama is weak. “Like Iran, Putin is willing to back up his pursuit of his interests with force,” writes Eliot Abrams in the National Review. “U.S. deterrence is dead,” says the American Enterprise Institute’s Danielle Pletka. The Washington Post editorial page bemoans Obama’s lack of a strategy for Syria and noted that while “shortsighted and cynical . . . at least Mr. Putin […]

Islamic State fighters wave an Islamic State flag as they patrol in a commandeered Iraqi military vehicle, Fallujah, Iraq, March 20, 2014 (AP photo).

Russia’s deployment of military equipment and personnel to Syria, combined with revelations about failed U.S. efforts to train and equip Syrian rebels, has rekindled criticisms of the Obama administration’s strategy against the self-declared Islamic State. The U.S. approach has been attacked from both sides of the political aisle, characterized as mission creep by some and weak incrementalism by others. During last week’s presidential debate, in particular, most of the Republican presidential candidates vied to burnish their national security credentials by vowing to expand U.S. military operations to defeat the Islamic State. However, the urge to “do something” in Iraq and […]

Syrians gather amid the rubble of damaged buildings in the predominantly Christian and Armenian neighborhood of Suleimaniyeh, Aleppo, Syria, April 11, 2015 (AP photo/SANA).

Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, the United States has rejected deep involvement, hoping that the conflict would work itself out or at least remain limited to Syria itself. These hopes are now bankrupt. Syria’s humanitarian disaster and refugee crisis is only growing, with tragic consequences for the Syrian people. It is destabilizing neighboring nations and threatening Europe. Containment of the conflict has failed. Yet there is no movement toward a resolution that reflects American interests. There is only stalemate and chaos. From the American perspective, the core problem is that U.S. strategy has been based on three […]

The tower of the the Centenario deep-water drilling platform rises off the coast of Veracruz, Mexico in the Gulf of Mexico, Nov. 22, 2013 (AP photo by Dario Lopez-Mills).

Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing WPR series on the impact of falling oil and commodities prices on resource-exporting countries. Earlier this month, the Mexican government submitted a budget to cut spending in 2016, including reduced investment in the state oil company Pemex, given the drop in global oil prices. In an email interview, Amb. Antonio Garza, former U.S. ambassador to Mexico and currently counsel in the Mexico City office of White & Case LLP, discussed Mexico’s economy and the impact of the oil shock. WPR: How have declining oil revenues affected Mexico’s budget and spending power? […]

Russian T-14 Armata tanks make their way during the Victory Parade marking the 70th anniversary of the defeat of the Nazis in World War II, Red Square Moscow, Russia, May 9, 2015 (AP photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko).

America, it seems, has a new foreign threat: Russia. “For the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union,” read the lede in a Foreign Policy article last week, “the Pentagon is reviewing and updating its contingency plans for armed conflict with Russia.” Even worse, in recent war games that imagined a NATO conflict with Russia, “we are unable to defend the Baltics,” concluded one former Pentagon official. If this sounds familiar, it’s because you might have read it in the Daily Beast a month ago. “A series of classified exercises over the summer,” two unnamed sources told the […]

U.S. President Barack Obama during a bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the US Ambassador's Residence, Amsterdam, Netherlands, March 24, 2014 (U.S. Embassy in the Hague photo).

Since U.S. President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, met in Beijing last November, the United States and China have seen incremental progress in cooperation on climate change, Iran’s nuclear program and other areas, as well as continued strong trade. Yet these positive developments have been overshadowed by a deepening distrust over an array of other issues: the South China Sea, cyberespionage, the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the intensification of a human rights crackdown under an increasingly authoritarian Xi. With this gloomy and tense backdrop, Xi’s visit to the U.S. this week, starting Tuesday […]

Pope Francis at the canonization of Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II, Vatican, April 27, 2014 (Aleteia photo by Jeffrey Bruno).

The Pope’s visit to the United States this week will include an unprecedented address to the U.S. Congress, opening our eyes to how much has changed in the way religion has become part of American politics and international relations. The head of the Catholic Church has long been seen as a world leader, reaching vast audiences and promoting universal principles of peace and humility. But Pope Francis’ visit seems to represent a step beyond former pontiffs’ travels. His appeal seems to reach across a wide spectrum of believers and more secular audiences who admire his courage and his policy prescriptions. […]

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mualem meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Moscow, Russia, June 29, 2015 (Alexei Nikolsky/RIA Novosti via AP).

After World War II, the United States reluctantly assumed global power. But most Americans considered this temporary, assuming the United States would disengage once Europe was back on its feet and the world’s war-torn regions were on the way to recovery. But by the time the Soviet Union finally collapsed and the Cold War ended 45 years later, Americans had become so accustomed to global power that there was little serious pressure for disengagement. Global power had become comforting and normal. Yet this, too, proved temporary. Now, weary after decades of containing the Soviet Union and 14 years of fighting […]

Republican presidential candidates appear during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, Simi Valley, Calif., Sept. 16, 2015 (AP photo by Chris Carlson).

When this year’s slate of GOP presidential candidates took the stage for a televised debate a couple of months ago, with the flamboyant Donald Trump capturing most of the attention, a number of writers started referring to the group as the Republican “clown car.” The term was obviously meant to be a humorous putdown, dismissing the seriousness and political viability of the large and histrionic collection of would-be presidents. More recently, as the possibility that Trump could emerge victorious started becoming less inconceivable to the establishment, the term fell into disuse. And yet, there is a grain of truth in […]

A man carries a child as migrants and refugees arrive on a dinghy after crossing from Turkey to Lesbos, Greece, Sept. 8, 2015 (AP photo by Petros Giannakouris).

The wave of refugees washing over Europe today is the latest distress call from the remnants of what we still, for simplicity’s sake, refer to as Syria. The immediate reaction has been one of panic, with the European Union’s vaunted open borders—symbol of a generation’s worth of hard-won European integration—now at risk. There is much to criticize in the official and popular reactions in Europe. The flow of migrants from the Middle East, North Africa and Afghanistan has been building over a long enough time for the EU to have formulated a more effective response. But the shift in routes […]

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at the Brookings Institution, Washington, Sept. 9, 2015 (AP photo by Carolyn Kaster).

One of the defining declarations of Barack Obama’s 2008 run for the White House was his pledge not only to end the war in Iraq, but also to change the mindset that got America involved in that disastrous war in the first place. In fits and starts, he has adopted that approach as president, particularly in his second term. Unfortunately it appears that Hillary Clinton, his former secretary of state and now the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, still hasn’t gotten the memo. Last week Clinton ventured to Washington’s Brookings Institution to talk about her views on the Iran […]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addresses reporters about the Iran nuclear deal in the U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C., Sept. 9, 2015 (U.S. State Department photo).

The lingering misgivings among some in the U.S. Congress about the nuclear agreement with Iran have already generated calls for new sanctions against Iran, just as Tehran and many of its trading partners are gearing up for a post-sanctions environment, with corporate leaders booking flights to scope out prospects for trade and investment. Meanwhile sanctions against Russia for its seizure of Crimea continue to disrupt economic relations between Russia and major European countries, costing the latter tens of billions of euros in lost trade. The widespread use of sanctions speaks to the more prominent role of economics in foreign policymaking, […]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference, Washington, March 2, 2015 (AP photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais).

With the Iran nuclear deal well on its way to safe passage through Congress, the post-mortem tallies of winners and losers are already being written. And one name, seemingly more than any other, can regularly be found in the loser column: AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group. On the surface, this makes a lot of sense—AIPAC got steamrolled. By some estimates the organization will have spent as much as $40 million, much of it on television advertisements that have run in two dozen states, in trying to kill the deal in Congress. All these efforts have appeared to accomplish so […]

A long line of women refugees from Syria wait to register with UNHCR, Arsal, Lebanon, Nov. 2013 (UNHCR photo).

As the plight of Syrian refugees and their harrowing attempts to enter Europe dominate international media, calls have mounted for the United States to play a greater role in managing the crisis. Last week, a photo of the lifeless 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, washed up on a Turkish beach, went viral, only intensifying demands to address the humanitarian needs of many Syrians fleeing the civil war that has raged since 2011. European countries—the target for many migrants—have responded unevenly; Germany and Sweden are liberally accepting European Union-bound refugees and have called on other member states to absorb more migrants, though prospects […]

Ranking Member Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill to review the Iran nuclear agreement, July 23, 2015 (AP photo by Andrew Harnik).

President Barack Obama has now won enough support among Democrats in Congress to ensure that the nuclear agreement reached between world powers and Iran will move forward. But while indisputably a major political achievement, the victory is not any guarantee of long-term success. We can now see the outlines of the next phase of the struggle, in which profound disagreements over the deal persist in Washington, denying any semblance of consensus on one of the president’s most important foreign policy wins. First, to savor the success. It remains unknown whether Senate Democrats will manage to prevent the resolution of disapproval […]

Iraqi security forces backed by Shiite and Sunni pro-government fighters celebrate as they hold a flag of the Islamic State militant group they captured in Anbar University in Ramadi, Anbar province, Iraq, July 26, 2015 (AP photo).

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two-part column on the Islamic State’s use of extreme brutality as part of its strategy. Part I looked at the roots and intended effects of that brutality. Part II examines whether extreme brutality is sustainable or will be the group’s downfall, and what that means for the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State. The past week brought another example of the deranged brutality of the so-called Islamic State. In this case, a video surfaced showing the extremists burning alive four prisoners from a Shiite militia group. Far from an anomaly, this was […]

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill, Washington, July 16, 2015 (AP photo by Susan Walsh).

With Congress preparing to vote on the Iran nuclear deal later this month, the proverbial fat lady in the wings is preparing for her solo. After months of lobbying, millions spent on advertising, hundreds of op-eds, thousands of articles and an incalculable number of tweets, the opponents of the P5+1 nuclear agreement with Iran are on the verge of a major defeat. Indeed, the White House is now pushing for Democrats to filibuster the vote in the Senate and prevent President Barack Obama from having to veto any resolution. Even if not blocked in the Senate, the White House has […]