U.S. soldiers participate in a training mission with Iraqi army soldiers outside Baghdad, Iraq, May 27, 2015 (AP photo by Khalid Mohammed).

As the conflict with the so-called Islamic State (IS) swings back and forth, one thing is increasingly clear: Even if Iraq survives the fight intact, there is no chance it will ever return to the pre-war status quo where the government in Baghdad controls the entire nation. Neither the Kurds nor Sunni Arabs will trust the Shiite-dominated central government to protect them. The newly empowered Shiite militia leaders also will cling to their autonomy from Baghdad. If Iraq holds together at all, it will have a titular national government in the capital while regional potentates actually run the place. Local […]

Mexican state police stand guard near the entrance of Rancho del Sol, near Vista Hermosa, Mexico, May 22, 2015 (AP photo by Refugio Ruiz).

On May 1, the first day of a military-led operation meant to restore peace in a region wracked by recent drug-related violence, Mexico’s western state of Jalisco suffered one of the deadliest days in its recent history. Across the region, a bold new criminal gang known as the Jalisco New Generation Cartel reportedly shot down a military helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade, set 11 banks and 19 gas stations on fire and used flaming vehicles to put up at least 39 roadblocks. The attacks, apparently carried out by the group to prevent the capture of its leader, killed 15 people, […]

U.S. President Barack Obama with officials from the UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Camp David, Maryland, May 14, 2015 (AP photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais).

In Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s iconic 1950 film, “Rashomon,” four people witness a crime outside the gates of Kyoto. When called on to testify in court, each has a distinctly different version of the events, and even different ideas of who the guilty party is. The Rashomon effect, as this phenomenon is often called, was in evidence this month, when reports leading up to and following the U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit earlier this month produced wildly divergent assessments, from total failure to “better than expected.” There’s a danger of imbuing too much importance to the summit itself, which is […]

Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler, interpreter Paul Otto Gustav Schmidt and British Prime Minister Neville Chamerlain, Munich, Germany, Sept. 29, 1938 (German Federal Archives photo).

The Nobel-winning author William Faulkner once famously wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” While Faulkner’s insight applies to a wide array of human affairs, it has become something of a professional hazard for foreign policy pundits. There is perhaps no field of public policy more regularly misdescribed and misrepresented by false historical analogies than international affairs. It’s a problem that exists across the political spectrum—both for hawks, who view any willingness to utilize diplomacy or deal with nefarious regimes as another Munich and any reluctance to use military force as a concession to tyrants; and for […]

A worker cuts a diamond, reflecting Botswana’s attempt to control stages of diamond production beyond mining, Gaborone, Botswana, March 18, 2008 (AP photo by Themba Hadebe).

The past year has seen dramatic declines in the prices of global commodities. Between June 2014 and the beginning of this year, crude oil prices fell by 50 percent to around $50 a barrel. Similarly, mineral prices have seen a drastic fall since the peak of the “commodity supercycle” in early 2011. Between then and April of this year, iron ore prices fell by 70 percent, coal prices by 54 percent and copper prices by 40 percent. Many countries dependent on revenues from these commodities have been hit hard. Venezuela is unable to import food and medicine to satisfy the […]

The port in Montego Bay, Jamaica, Jan. 19, 2011 (photo by Flickr user the brit_2 licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license).

Earlier this month, Jamaica announced plans to expand regional trade ties through a framework agreement with Cuba and a deal that supplements the existing free trade agreement with Costa Rica. In an email interview, Krista Lucenti, an economist with the Inter-American Development Bank, discussed Jamaica’s trade policy. WPR: What are Jamaica’s main exports, and who are Jamaica’s main trade partners? Krista Lucenti: Jamaica exported roughly $2.3 billion in goods and services in 2014. Exports of goods are concentrated in bauxite, alumina and other non-traditional exports, including chemical, minerals and food processing exports, and represent nearly three-fourths of the total value […]

U.S. door gunners in H-21 Shawnee gunships look for a suspected Viet Cong guerrilla who ran to a foxhole from the sampan on the Mekong Delta river bank, Jan. 17, 1964 (AP photo by Horst Faas).

As Iraq devolved into insurgency in 2004, the Washington policy community was filled with ominous warnings of “another Vietnam.” The war in Vietnam was, after all, America’s benchmark for counterinsurgency and hung like a dark cloud over every debate on U.S. national security policy during the height of the Iraq War. But it soon seemed that the Vietnam analogy did not apply to Iraq. After a careful assessment, Jeffrey Record and Andrew Terrill, both widely published national security experts, concluded as early as May 2004 that “the differences between the two conflicts greatly outnumber the similarities.” Soon references to Vietnam […]

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet attends a ceremony announcing new Cabinet members at the presidential palace La Moneda, Santiago, Chile, May 11, 2015 (AP photo by Luis Hidalgo).

Images on television and social media of students rampaging through Santiago and Valparaiso and reports of injuries and even deaths were not what Chilean President Michelle Bachelet anticipated when she began her second, nonconsecutive term in office early last year. Elected in a landslide on a platform to institute social reforms, most of all on education, Bachelet has instead faced increasing political turbulence: The left demands rapid, far-reaching action, and the right is growing anxious about her political course. On May 6, she announced that she had asked her entire Cabinet to resign in order to breathe new life into […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Chinese President Xi Jinping and South African President Jacob Zuma at the BRICS summit, Brazil, July 15, 2014 (AP photo by Silvia Izquierdo).

The BRICS grouping must rank as one of the oddest geopolitical blocs in history. It was born in 2001 from the mind of a Wall Street economist as little more than a mnemonic shorthand device to describe the growing importance of developing economies. Ever since, the five countries it comprises—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, a later addition—have been trying to transform their snappy acronym into a global player. Nobody has promoted the ambition to leverage the BRICS bloc into a source of influence more enthusiastically than Russian President Vladimir Putin, who sees the grouping as a potential vehicle […]

U.S. Army soldiers stroll past two bronze busts of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein in the Green Zone in Baghdad, March 20, 2009 (AP photo by Hadi Mizban).

More than 12 years after the United States and its coalition partners invaded Iraq, it seems we’re no closer to learning the lessons of what may be the most ill-conceived war in American history. Case in point: the current debate playing out on the U.S. presidential campaign trail over whether it was a good idea for the U.S. to invade Iraq in 2003. Recently, U.S. politicians—primarily Republicans—have been twisting themselves into knots trying to rationalize then-President George W. Bush’s decision to go to war. “Based on what we know now” about Iraq’s lack of weapons of mass destruction, they argue, […]

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China is in negotiations with Djibouti to open a military base in the country, adding to its current roster of French, U.S., Japanese and EU military facilities. In an email interview, David Styan, lecturer in politics at Birkbeck College, University of London and author of the report “Djibouti: Changing Influence in the Horn’s Strategic Hub,” discussed Djibouti’s foreign relations. WPR: Who are Djibouti’s main regional partners? David Styan: The dominant regional partner is Ethiopia. Djibouti’s small economy is essentially a gateway; the vast majority of Addis Ababa’s fast-growing trade flows transit through Djibouti’s new container and oil terminals. China’s reconstruction […]

A Repsol plant before a ceremony to inaugurate the completion of a new phase at the Margarita-Huacaya gas refinery in the region of Chaco, southeastern Bolivia, Oct. 1, 2013 (AP photo by Juan Karita).

Latin America faces difficult choices over hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” as the region looks to expand its nascent shale gas and oil industry. To date, the United States and Canada have outpaced their southern neighbors in unconventional energy production. But Latin America, which holds approximately one-fourth of the world’s recoverable shale oil and gas reserves, appears poised to reap the benefits of the North American shale revolution in the coming decade. The urgency to start drilling might have eased in the short term, with lower energy prices making shale less competitive outside the United States. In the meantime, delays afforded […]

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain welcomes Ashton Carter, President Barack Obama’s choice to be defense secretary, before the panel to consider his nomination, Washington, Feb. 4, 2015 (AP photo by J. Scott Applewhite).

The Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA), passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Barack Obama to resolve that year’s debt-ceiling crisis, instituted spending caps on the federal discretionary budget, including on defense, a traditional Republican priority. As an incentive for compromise, the legislation also established a lower set of caps that would come into force should Congress fail to reach an agreement on further spending reductions. Failure to respect these limits in any year’s budget appropriations would trigger automatic across-the-board cuts, known as sequestration, against which the initial BCA caps would pale in comparison. Defense sequestration, in […]

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto at a press conference, Mexico City, Mexico, April 27, 2015 (AP photo by Rebecca Blackwell).

As part of its historic overhaul of Mexico’s energy sector, President Enrique Pena Nieto’s government has touted the potential for unprecedented levels of oil, gas and renewable energy investment. Yet Mexico should heed the lessons from other countries in Latin America about the need to engage indigenous communities as it develops and expands its energy sector. Across the region, when that has not happened, ensuing social conflict has disrupted the economy and often irrevocably damaged the relationship among communities, the government and the private sector. In Mexico, a failure to learn from others’ mistakes could put Pena Nieto’s ambitious economic […]

A soldier places simulated explosives in the hand of a Talon explosive ordinance disposal robot, Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, Feb. 20, 2013 (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joshua Edwards).

The U.S. military faces shrinking budgets, but its global commitments remain expansive. One response to this ends-means gap has been a growing interest in robotics, with the hope that this technology can be a force multiplier that allows military units to perform missions with fewer humans. And the United States is not alone: At least 43 countries have active programs to explore military robotics. Military robots are already performing repetitive tasks like moving supplies and loading cargo, as well as particularly dangerous missions like evacuating casualties under fire, disabling explosive devices and collecting information in hostile environments. All experts agree […]

U.S. President Barack Obama greets Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Washington, May 13, 2015 (AP photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta).

Among the many challenges facing President Barack Obama and U.S. officials meeting with Gulf Arab leaders this week, one has abruptly climbed to near the top of the agenda: taking the measure of the rising star of the Saudi firmament, King Salman’s son Prince Mohammed bin Salman. When the delegates from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)—which comprises Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman—gather at the presidential retreat of Camp David for the already troubled summit, U.S. officials will channel a significant portion of their energy toward Prince Mohammed. They will be hoping to develop ties […]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry listens as President Barack Obama addresses a Central American Integration System Heads of State Meeting on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas, Panama City, Panama, April 10, 2015 (State Department photo).

It’s kind of a tough week to start a new column on U.S. foreign policy. There’s just not much going on these days. The Iran nuclear debate has moved to the back burner as the P5+1 and Tehran try to hammer out the final details of a nuclear pact. The U.S. war against the so-called Islamic State (IS) is continuing apace, but with no horrifying images of American journalists being beheaded, it’s an issue that has largely fallen off the front pages. For about two days people were once again talking about drones and targeted killings, after an American unmanned […]

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