A U.S. Air Force captain at a pre-flight check of a F-15E Strike Eagle at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., June 16, 2011 (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Daniel Hughes).

American security strategy often twists and shifts. The White House changes hands; partners come and go; enemies emerge and fade; and threats rise and fall. But throughout all the change, there are constants, and none are more enduring than a preference for indirect applications of military force, particularly airpower. There are good reasons for this. Relying on airpower, rather than direct methods that put U.S. troops in close proximity to enemies, lowers American casualties. Airpower exploits America’s technological superiority. And it’s easier to disengage, should things go badly, if the United States does not have troops on the ground. Aircraft […]

People pan for gold along the Dagua River, Zaragoza, Colombia, July 8, 2009 (AP photo by Christian Escobar Mora).

In this week’s Trend Lines podcast, WPR’s Editor-in-Chief Judah Grunstein and host Peter Dörrie discuss ISIS and al-Qaida affiliates, El Salvador’s murder epidemic and the impact of the drop in global commodities prices. For the report, journalist James Bargent joins us to discuss illegal gold mining and violence in Colombia. Listen: Download: MP3Subscribe: iTunes | RSS Relevant articles on WPR: ISIS vs. Al-Qaida: How Do Affiliates Choose?El Salvador’s Murder Epidemic and the Paradox of Peacebuilding SuccessWith Little International Support, Unrecognized States Turn to Each OtherWPR’s Global Insider Series on the Commodities CycleLengthy Oil Slump Could Force Saudi Arabia’s Hand on […]

Republican presidential candidate and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie during a campaign stop, Concord, N.H., Jan. 20, 2016 (AP photo by John Minchillo).

Last week I spent two days in New Hampshire attending campaign events for five different presidential candidates: GOP hopefuls Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Ted Cruz, Gov. John Kasich and Gov. Chris Christie, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is seeking the Democratic nomination. At various points the meetings I attended were inspiring, amusing, frustrating, stupefying and boring. But it wasn’t until I traveled to Pittsfield, New Hampshire, that it became enraging. The event was a town hall meeting where Christie spoke to employees of a small manufacturing company. The topics ranged from drugs and immigration to the federal budget and the […]

Demonstrators celebrate the withdrawal of President Otto Perez Molina's immunity from prosecution, Guatemala City, Sep. 1, 2015 (AP photo by Moises Castillo).

Transparency International released its 2015 rankings on perceptions of corruption today, revealing that public-sector graft remains pervasive around the world. But the report also cited progress that offers some reasons for optimism. The index’s scores draw on expert analysis of citizen perceptions of government accountability and responsiveness, as well as the presence of bribery or embezzlement in public institutions. The U.S. and U.K. improved their scores, and familiar countries—including New Zealand, Switzerland and Canada, as well as those in Scandinavia—filled the top spots. But many usual suspects from Europe to Latin America scored dismally. Corruption has become an increasingly powerful […]

Soldiers guard a corner in a gang-controlled neighborhood in Ilopango, El Salvador, Aug. 31, 2015 (AP photo by Salvador Melendez).

On Jan. 16, El Salvador commemorated the 24th anniversary of the peace accords that ended the country’s 12-year civil war between the government and the then-rebel Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). But despite a quarter-century of peacebuilding, El Salvador continues to face the scourge of widespread violence: In 2015, the country’s homicide rate hit 104 per 100,000 people, a dramatic increase from 61.8 in 2014 and the worst in the world. To put the magnitude of that proportion in context, the World Health Organization classifies a rate of 10 per 100,000 people as an epidemic. El Salvador’s murder rate […]

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates addresses the Boy Scouts of America’s annual meeting, Nashville, Tenn., May 23, 2014 (AP photo by Mark Zaleski).

Robert Gates’ new book on leadership has powerful lessons for how American institutions, both public and private, are inspired and managed. At a time when U.S. citizens despair of ever fixing the country’s political system, he conveys some hope that positive change in political and bureaucratic behavior is possible. And beyond the U.S., Gates’ approach to leadership could also be applied to how Washington engages with democratizing countries struggling to build new social contracts between their leaders and citizens. Gates’ third book since leaving public office, “A Passion for Leadership,” draws from his 50 years of public service under eight […]

Women pan for gold along the Dagua River, Zaragoza, Colombia, July 8, 2009 (AP photo by Christian Escobar Mora).

The threats arrived in October by Whatsapp messages and pamphlets that were circulated around the northern Colombian town of Segovia. They placed a death sentence on every one of the 1,600 workers of Grupo Damasa, the business that operates the town’s richest gold mines, if the mining company did not pay a gold “tax.” “Stop working or we will stop you. We’re not playing,” they read. Within two months, four of the company’s miners were dead; two more had been shot; and one of its processing mills was attacked with a grenade. But still, Grupo Damasa’s owner would not pay […]

Republican presidential candidates during the Fox Business Network Republican presidential debate, North Charleston, S.C., Jan. 14, 2016, (AP photo by Chuck Burton).

As the Republican candidates in the presidential race work to define themselves and stand out from the crowded competition for the party nomination, many claim to be the heir of GOP icon Ronald Reagan. This makes sense given Reagan’s enduring popularity. This is particularly true for national security policy, where Reagan is considered a great success who revived American influence and paved the way for the end of the Cold War. But while claiming Reagan’s mantle, none of the candidates seem interested in actually emulating his strategy. One of the keys to Reagan’s success was lavishing resources on the U.S. […]

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Vice President Michel Temer during a Cabinet meeting, Brasilia, Oct. 8, 2015 (AP photo by Eraldo Peres).

Brazil’s embattled president, Dilma Rousseff, has suffered many setbacks since late last year, perhaps none worse than when the lower house of Brazil’s National Congress accepted an impeachment motion against her in early December. The barrage of negative headlines, however, is unlikely to cut short Rousseff’s term in office, since the political and legal bars to oust her are much higher than those to block impeachment proceedings in the National Congress. In recent weeks, the move to impeach her, which looked more likely in December, has lost some of its momentum. But a hasty impeachment process had little chance of […]

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani surrounded by lawmakers as he arrives at the parliament, Tehran, Iran, Jan. 17, 2016 (AP photo by Vahid Salemi).

Last week marked the formal implementation of the agreement signed last summer by Iran and the international community to roll back Tehran’s nuclear program. Although the news did not create as much of a fuss as the actual signing of the agreement in July, in the larger context of international relations, it’s still a pretty big deal. The agreement is a critical step forward for nuclear nonproliferation efforts and for the upholding of global norms and the will of the international community. It’s a victory for the notion that intractable international issues can be resolved via diplomacy and negotiations, rather […]

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani welcomes Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to the Gas Exporting Countries Forum, Tehran, Iran, Nov. 23, 2015 (AP photo by Ebrahim Noroozi).

This past week, Iran satisfied its obligations for implementing the nuclear deal reached last July with world powers, earning it relief from sanctions. The prisoner swap with the United States that followed hinted that a new era of possible cooperation between Washington and Tehran could be in the cards as the result of last year’s hard-earned diplomatic victory. But how relations will unfold, and how they will fare under the next U.S. administration, remain unclear. Iran’s other relationships are also in flux. Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties with Iran following an attack on its embassy in Tehran […]

This photo released by a militant website shows a flag of the Islamic State group placed on a damaged helicopter, Tadmur military airbase, Palmyra, Syria, May 31, 2015 (Militant website via AP).

Once again the Obama administration is revising its programs to counter and defeat the self-styled Islamic State, particularly on the battlefield of ideas. With no apparent decline in supporters flocking to the movement nor any shortage of unhinged murderers inspired by it, State Department officials announced that they were creating a new “Global Engagement Center” to combat the Islamic State online. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama met with social media-savvy representatives from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to convince them to join the effort. This is simply the latest episode of a series now deep into reruns: The United States fiddles with […]

A member of the group occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters stands guard, Burns, Ore., Jan. 5, 2016 (AP photo by Rick Bowmer).

Paul Ryan, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, is none too impressed with President Barack Obama’s plan to curtail gun violence in America by tightening purchasing requirements through executive order. In an interview with Katie Couric of Yahoo News, Ryan complained that “a week [when] we . . . talk about gun control is a week we’re not talking about our failure to confront [the self-described Islamic State] fully, the failure to take care of the threat that’s on our doorstep.” To call the Islamic State, rather than guns, “the threat that’s on our doorstep” is rather extraordinary, […]

Argentine President Mauricio Macri during a Mercosur Summit, Luque, Paraguay, Dec. 21, 2015 (AP photo by Jorge Saenz).

Argentina’s new president, Mauricio Macri, inherits a host of problems and points of friction at home and abroad from his predecessors, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and, before that, her late husband, Nestor Kirchner. But in contrast to the daunting domestic economic issues his new administration faces—just 0.4 percent economic growth in 2015 and an economy projected to shrink by 0.7 percent in 2016, on top of inflation estimated at 20 percent—the international hangover of nearly 13 years of Kirchner governments looks relatively easy to fix. International spats were an extension of the angry, polarizing rhetoric and policies of Kirchnerismo that […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syria President Bashar Assad at the Kremlin, Moscow, Russia, Oct. 20, 2015 (Photo by Alexei Druzhinin, RIA-Novosti via AP).

Wherever you look these days, unhappy regional powers and even some weak states are demonstrating a startling degree of contempt for the supposed masters of the international system. In the past two weeks, Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies have precipitated a crisis with Iran that threatens to wreck the U.S. opening to Tehran, while North Korea has infuriated China with its so-called hydrogen bomb test. In Africa, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, once a darling of aid donors, has declared that he will run for a third term in office, having already revised the country’s constitution to eliminate its erstwhile […]

President Barack Obama with King Salman of Saudi Arabia in the Oval Office of the White House, Washington, Sept. 4, 2015 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

For decades, American security strategy in the Persian Gulf has been built on a partnership with Saudi Arabia. But despite this relationship’s importance, it was always peculiar and tense, pairing a democratic global power with a secular approach to foreign policy on one hand with a stridently conservative authoritarian regime on the other. Given the Saudi regime’s internal repression and international support for a brand of Islam that sometimes provides an ideological gateway to violent extremism, few Americans felt any affinity for the desert kingdom. The relationship was seen as unpleasant but necessary to stabilize global oil prices and prevent […]

Journalists protest the jailing of opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper's editor-in-chief Can Dundar and Ankara representative Erdem Gul, Ankara, Turkey, Nov. 27, 2015 (AP photo by Burhan Ozbilici).

This week on the Trend Lines podcast, WPR’s editor-in-chief, Judah Grunstein, and host Peter Dörrie discuss China’s infrastructure schemes in Southeast Asia, Poland’s right-wing government and presidents-for-life in Rwanda and Burundi. In the Report, Nate Schenkkan explains the Turkish government’s long war against the media and freedom of expression. Listen: Download: MP3Subscribe: iTunes | RSS Relevant articles from WPR: China’s Grand Plans in Southeast Asia on Track With Thai Rail Deal Constitutional Crisis Veers Poland Into Uncharted Territory U.S. Offers Mild Rebuke of Kagame’s Bid to Hold Onto Power in Rwanda African Union Intervention Could Do More Harm Than Good […]

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