South Sudanese President Salva Kiir signs a peace deal, Juba, South Sudan, Aug. 26, 2015 (AP photo by Jason Patinkin).

How much clout does the U.S. wield over African leaders? Over the past month, the Obama administration has turned up the heat on South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, pressuring him to commit to a deal to end his country’s 20-month-old civil war. Kiir did all he could to avoid signing the agreement, which involves a power-sharing arrangement with rebel leader and former Vice President Riek Machar. He backed out of a ceremony to sign it in the middle of last month and only gave in last week after the U.S. threatened him with United Nations sanctions. Last week, the Security […]

Colombian police help carry people's household belongings across the Tachira River on the border that separates San Antonio del Tachira, Venezuela from Villa del Rosario, Colombia, Aug. 25, 2015 (AP photo by Eliecer Mantilla).

When three Venezuelan soldiers and one civilian were injured during anti-smuggling operations on the border with Colombia last week, Venezuela’s embattled president, Nicolas Maduro, launched an escalating series of measures that created a major crisis with its neighbor and raised questions about hidden political movies. By all appearances, Maduro has found a convenient scapegoat for the multiplying problems besetting Venezuela’s economy and its people, and has done so just in time to affect crucial legislative elections in December that could threaten his hold on power. Maduro is exploiting the situation to shift blame for the country’s deterioration under his watch. […]

Fighters from the Islamic State parade in a commandeered Iraqi security forces armored vehicle down a main road at the northern city of Mosul, Iraq, June 23, 2014 (AP photo).

Earlier this month, during a campaign stop in Ottawa ahead of October’s federal elections, incumbent Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper proposed new legislation to prohibit travel to terrorism hot spots like Iraq and Syria. “A re-elected Conservative government will designate travel to places that are ground zero for terrorist activity a criminal offense,” Harper said. This is not a new idea. Australia has already enacted a similar measure this year, listing parts of Iraq and Syria as no-travel zones. Individuals caught violating the law face 10 years in prison. Exemptions exist for journalists, representatives of national governments and the United […]

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks at the Reagan Presidential Library, Simi Valley, Calif., Aug. 11, 2015 (AP photo by Kevork Djansezian).

Earlier this month, Jeb Bush gave a major foreign policy speech focusing on U.S strategy in the Middle East. It offered a compelling lesson in the pitfalls of a politician named Bush talking about Iraq. In the speech, Bush blamed the current instability in Iraq on the Obama administration and in particular former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He suggested the White House had squandered the hard-earned gains from the 2007 surge in Iraq, which he argued could be successfully replicated in Syria. Beyond a rather blatant effort to rewrite history, Bush’s speech was a stark reminder that many of […]

Egyptian protesters call for the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, July 3, 2013 (AFP photo by Gianluigi Guercia).

Once set aside as artifacts of history, scholars and policymakers have vigorously returned their attention to coups d’état. This shift is clearly warranted, as recent coups in places like Honduras, Egypt and Thailand have broad ramifications for trade relationships, security and the growth of democracy. Unfortunately, we are largely playing catch-up in a fast-paced game. We know a fair amount about what causes coups—weak economies, illegitimate governance, past histories of coups, domestic protests—but far less about what transpires after a coup comes about. Following the end of the Cold War, the conventional wisdom that coups are bad for democracy ushered […]

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden with the presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and the Inter-American Development Bank, Washington, Nov. 14, 2014 (AP photo by Susan Walsh).

During his remaining time in office, U.S. President Barack Obama is pushing hard to finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the major free trade deal between the United States and 11 Pacific Rim countries. The Obama administration is also intent on providing significant new aid to reduce violence, support development and build institutions in Central America. At first blush, the two appear unrelated; the TPP includes no Central American countries. Yet the deal’s final shape may actually play an important part in determining whether the Obama administration will meet its policy and security goals in Central America, since it could unintentionally […]

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro before casting his ballot in his party's primary elections in Caracas, Venezuela, June 28, 2015 (AP photo by Ariana Cubillos).

On July 3, shortly before Venezuela’s Independence Day, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sent a positive message to the Venezuelan people heralding improved relations and looking forward to “further cooperation between our people and governments.” But just a month later, the State Department released a statement criticizing the government’s disqualification of several opposition candidates from scheduled parliamentary elections, suggesting the moves “clearly have the intention of complicating the ability of the opposition to run candidates for the legislative elections.” In reaction, on Aug. 5, President Nicolas Maduro’s government vigorously rejected the American criticism, calling it interventionist. Yet three days […]

The CIA Original Headquarters Building at Langley, Virginia (CIA photo).

The summer’s headlines—from how to verify the Iran deal to combating the self-declared Islamic State to, most recently, new revelations about the National Security Agency (NSA) and the telecom giant AT&T—all have something in common: the role of intelligence in keeping the United States safe. For better or worse, since the release of diplomatic cables from Wikileaks and classified NSA documents from former government contractor Edward Snowden, the American public has a deeper understanding of at least some of the ways that intelligence contributes to U.S. national security. The NSA documents were the source of The New York Times’ recent […]

Police prevent demonstrators marking Teacher's Day from approaching the Zocalo plaza in Mexico City, May 15, 2015 (AP photo by Marco Ugarte).

The ongoing fight over education reform in Mexico has often resembled a popular uprising rather than a labor dispute. Over the past two years, members of a powerful teachers’ union from the south of the country have occupied plazas, hijacked local radio stations and disrupted elections in their bid to have a controversial 2013 bill restructuring Mexico’s public school system revoked. The clash between union leaders and the federal government has defined much of President Enrique Pena Nieto’s time in office, as he has pursued an ambitious reform agenda that has stalled under corruption allegations and popular unrest, mostly over […]

Fox News moderators Chris Wallace, Megyn Kelly and Bret Baier speak before Republican presidential candidates take the stage for the first Republican presidential debate Cleveland, Oh. Aug. 6, 2015 (AP photo by Andrew Harnik).

A glance at the most popular sources of political news today—whether websites, television, radio or, for the old-fashioned consumers, print—provides a stark reminder that in the United States, politics and celebrity have merged. For superstar pundits, television and radio “infotainers,” and would-be office-holders, celebrity status equals political influence. This affects all aspects of American politics but is particularly powerful in the realm of security policy, where the public has little direct expertise and so must lean heavily on opinion-shapers. It wasn’t always this way. Once the public tended to defer to national security authorities who had earned their influence through […]

People hold up pictures of the victims from the AMIA Jewish community center bombing on the 21st anniversary of the terror attack, Buenos Aires, Argentina, July 17, 2015 (AP photo by Victor R. Caivano).

A new high-profile trial started last week in Buenos Aires, opening another act in the cloak-and-dagger drama surrounding a decades-old terrorist attack in the Argentine capital. Once again, charges and countercharges about Middle Eastern powers, shady characters and secret payments to local players are bound to come to light. Once again, the principal perpetrators will escape punishment in a case that has continued to claim victims as recently as this year, when the case’s special prosecutor, still leading an ongoing parallel investigation, was found dead in his apartment. When this court proceeding ends, the one thing that is certain is […]

Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega and first lady Rosario Murillo commemorate the 36th anniversary of the Sandinista National Liberation Front withdrawal to Masaya, Managua, Nicaragua, July 3, 2015 (AP photo by Esteban Felix).

Thirty-six years after the 1979 revolution that overthrew the entrenched Somoza dynasty, Nicaraguans still fill Plaza La Fe in Managua to celebrate Liberation Day festivities every July 19. While to some it may look like an exercise in grand nostalgia, supporters of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) and President Daniel Ortega view the revolution as an ongoing process. Yet some question how far the current administration has drifted from the guiding principles of the revolution and claim he is building a dynasty of his own. Ortega’s Return and the Consolidation of Power After being voted out of power following […]

President Barack Obama speaks about the nuclear deal with Iran at American University, Washington, Aug. 5, 2015 (AP photo by Carolyn Kaster).

Last week at American University, Barack Obama gave one of the most important foreign policy speeches of his presidency. In it, he laid out his detailed argument for supporting the Iran nuclear deal. The president offered a veritable legal brief on why the deal makes the most sense for U.S. national security interests, why it’s better than any alternative, why its critics are wrong and why the agreement builds on a “tradition of strong, principled diplomacy” in U.S. foreign policy. But beyond that, Obama’s speech did something with even greater implications. It highlighted the widening dividing line between Democrats and […]

U.S. Navy ships in formation with Indian navy ships during Exercise Malabar 2012 (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class James R. Evans).

Last month, after years of hedging on the issue, India agreed to include Japan as a permanent participant in its annual Malabar naval exercises with the United States, set this year for October. Japan has participated in the Malabar exercises before, but only as an invited observer. The decision to expand the Malabar exercises is a significant turning point not just for India’s role in the region, but also for the development of the trilateral relationship among the U.S., Japan and India. This long-underperforming trilateral partnership brings together the U.S. and the two largest and most influential democracies in the […]

President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro during their historic meeting at the Summit of the Americas, Panama City, Panama, April 11, 2015 (AP photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais).

On July 20, an honor guard of three Cuban soldiers in full dress uniform raised the island country’s flag over the embassy in Washington for the first time since January 1961. The re-establishment of diplomatic relations concluded “the first stage” of the dialogue between the United States and Cuba, said Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, but a “complex and certainly long process” of negotiations still lay ahead before the two countries would have truly normal relations. “The challenge is huge,” he added, “because there have never been normal relations between the United States of America and Cuba.” Indeed, myriad issues still […]

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks to reporters at United Nations headquarters, July 28, 2015 (AP photo by Seth Wenig).

Last month, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro formally requested that the U.N. mediate its long-standing border dispute with Guyana. In an email interview, Mark Kirton, senior lecturer at the University of the West Indies, discussed Guyana’s relations with Venezuela and the impact of the territorial dispute on bilateral ties. WPR: How extensive are Venezuela and Guyana’s political and economic relations, and what are the main areas of cooperation? Mark Kirton: Relations between the two countries are characterized by prolonged periods of controversy and tension, interspersed with short periods of economic and political cooperation. Tensions stem from Venezuela’s claim to the Essequibo […]

Soldiers of the Chinese People's Liberation Army 1st Amphibious Mechanized Infantry Division prepare for a demonstration, Beijing, China, July 12, 2011 (DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley).

One of the hottest reads among Washington national security experts this summer is not the latest White House policy document or a big report from an influential think tank, but a novel by two of the national security community’s own: Peter Singer and August Cole. Their book, “Ghost Fleet,” is a riveting thriller in the Tom Clancy tradition. Much of the attention it is getting is due to its explanation of cutting-edge military technology, but it is also captivating—and important—because its core scenario is one that every policymaker and policy expert fears: a major war between the United States and […]

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