The termination of the European Union embargo on providing military equipment to Syria’s rebels, combined with renewed efforts in the U.S. Congress to goad the Obama administration into providing arms to the anti-Assad opposition, suggests that the West will soon become more directly involved in aiding the fight against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The shift comes despite the near absence of domestic support in any NATO-member country for inserting troops directly into the fighting, and with concerns that establishing and enforcing any sort of no-fly zone over Syrian airspace might expose Western aircrews to unacceptable levels of […]

Prior to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s mid-May visit to Washington, the expectation among many observers was that the Turkish leader would be coming to the White House to press a reluctant President Barack Obama to commit to supporting more forceful—that is, military—action against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. However, Erdogan’s trip played out quite differently. Rather than Erdogan convincing Obama to change positions, it was the U.S. president who got the normally strong-willed Turkish prime minister to soften his tone and publicly support the Geneva II process, Washington’s effort to convene an international conference next month on […]

Central America has returned as an international battleground, not against communism but against organized crime. With successive crackdowns against drug traffickers in the Caribbean, Colombia and, most recently, in Mexico, the countries of Central America’s northern triangle—Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras—have become a center for illegal narcotics transshipment. Beyond their geographic location and extensive coastlines, the combination of weak institutions, political instability and corrupt police in these countries makes the region an ideal base for traffickers. And with astronomical crime rates—Honduras officially has the world’s highest murder rate, at more than 80 homicides per 100,000 people, with El Salvador close […]

Bolivian President Evo Morales’ successful push to clear the way for a potential third term in office has reinforced the fears of many observers who, ever since he was first elected president in December 2005, have lumped Morales in with the wave of populist, anti-democratic leaders in Venezuela, Ecuador and Nicaragua. Morales joined ALBA, the alliance of leftist countries assembled and underwritten by former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez; he engaged in the time-honored tradition of leftist “yanqui” bashing; and he has whittled away institutional checks and balances on executive power. But in important economic and political ways, Bolivia was and […]

The May 23 Moscow European Security Conference gathered government representatives, defense officials and analysts from Russia, Europe and elsewhere to discuss the range of issues confronting policymakers for European security today. Sponsored by the Russian Ministry of Defense, which covered my expenses as well as those of other nongovernmental participants, the speeches and debates displayed an interesting admixture of standard post-Cold War rhetoric and genuinely innovative thinking. While the conference highlighted the many areas of divergence between Russia and the West on matters of European and global security, it also offered some opportunities for renewed engagement and dialogue on these […]

In his speech yesterday at the National Defense University, President Barack Obama offered a detailed and comprehensive vision of how he plans to wind down the global war on terrorism. Perhaps inspired by the continued and growing criticism from his political base that his maintenance—and expansion—of executive powers inherited from the George W. Bush administration was setting troubling precedents for future chief executives, Obama announced his interest in limiting the legal basis for any future president’s ability to wield vast national security powers. He also outlined a “second go” at closing the facility at Guantanamo Bay; his first effort, heralded […]

The Syrian civil war has become one of the most complex and tragic conflicts of the 21st century. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that 80,000 have died since 2011. The United Nations believes that 1.5 million Syrians are refugees, and that number could increase dramatically in coming months. Day by day, Syria is losing an entire generation, one that will be scarred by violence and unprepared to be productive citizens someday. Yet the conflict continues because those who could stop it—the Assad regime and its supporters, the various rebel movements and the external nations supporting one side or […]

As President Barack Obama learned during his whirlwind trip to Mexico in early May 2013, President Enrique Pena Nieto, like his predecessors, is eager to lessen his nation’s security, economic and trade dependence on the United States. During the visit, the U.S. chief executive discussed economic cooperation, education, border infrastructure, migration and the drug war. “We’ve done a lot of work with the previous Mexican administration on security issues and on economic issues. But sometimes the relationship gets characterized just as being about borders or just about drug cartels,” Obama told the Spanish-language network Telemundo. Proximity, joint assembly ventures, and […]

At their White House summit last week, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President Barack Obama reaffirmed the two countries’ “model partnership” as they jointly called for greater international efforts to end the Syrian War. Thus far, the Arab Spring has had an overall positive effect on the Turkey-U.S. relationship. Before 2011, the Turkish-U.S. policy discourse focused on their divisions over Iraq, Iran and other regional security issues. But since the Arab Spring, Ankara and Washington have been preoccupied with harmonizing their policies toward the Arab world. This has become increasingly difficult with regard to Syria. Meanwhile, the […]

U.S. President Barack Obama welcomed President Thein Sein of Myanmar to the White House on Monday, praising Thein Sein’s leadership in moving his country “down a path of both political and economic reform.” That progress, Obama said, has allowed for the recent “shift in relations” between the U.S. and Myanmar. Vikram Nehru, a senior associate in the Asia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Trend Lines the visit underlines how far the Southeast Asian country has come. Nehru said the progress in Myanmar is real, but that the country’s leaders have so far delivered more political than […]

The government’s decision to charge surviving Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev with the use of a weapon of mass destruction struck many Americans as peculiar. At first glance, the Tsarnaev brothers’ bombs do not seem to match the definition or popular perception of a WMD. For decades, that term has been interpreted as referring to nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, which uniquely possess the ability to kill people in numbers large enough to be considered massive. Two factors, among others, help explain the government’s decision: The charge is seen by prosecutors as relatively easy to level—and prove—compared to other possible […]

If I were a strategist sitting in Beijing, I would see the prospects of any U.S. intervention in the Syrian civil war as being very beneficial to China. This might seem counterintuitive, given that Beijing, following Moscow’s lead, has resolutely blocked any effort in the U.N. Security Council to authorize any sort of action in Syria. But while China is not interested in giving a green light to legitimize U.S. involvement, Beijing would quickly seize the opportunity to take advantage should the U.S. decide to entangle itself more closely in Damascus’ affairs. For one thing, China has a good track […]

The victory by the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in this weekend’s national elections offers the United States a timely opportunity to develop and execute a strategy for improving the deeply troubled relationship with Pakistan. Polling data show that Pakistanis have extremely negative views of U.S. policies and blame Americans for many of the difficulties bedeviling the country. In addition to irritation at Washington’s close ties to India and its use of drones on Pakistani territory, Pakistanis believe that U.S. policies contributed to the rise of militant Islamist groups within their borders, and that […]

Does the U.S. genuinely want its European allies to police their geopolitical backyard? When it comes to the Syrian crisis, the answer seems to be no. Last week, the Obama administration signaled that it intends to set the diplomatic pace over Syria as the U.S. and Russia announced joint plans for a peace conference. This was not only an accommodating gesture to the Russians—who, as I argued in this column last week, have made immense political capital out of the conflict—but also a setback for Britain and France, which have agitated for a more hawkish Western line, including arming the […]

Talk of America’s “pivot” toward Asia echoes around graduate school classrooms and foreign ministry corridors. The Obama administration believes the United States has overinvested in the Middle East and underinvested in the Asia-Pacific, where the bulk of its future opportunities and challenges lie. So now America is rebalancing its investment portfolio. A defense white paper from America’s most reliable ally in the region, Australia, should therefore be closely read in Washington. The message from the Australian Government’s 2013 Defense White Paper is that if the United States is rebalancing, then so is Australia. This white paper is very cautious in […]

John Kerry undertook his maiden voyage to Moscow as U.S. secretary of state this week, and the initial impression is that his visit was a success. There was a perceptible thaw in what, over the past year, has been described as a much more contentious relationship. U.S. officials have focused on the prospect of a “more intensified dialogue with the Russians” that can now take place in the aftermath of the presidential elections in both Russia and the United States. Building upon the foundation laid last month by National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, Kerry continued the process of leaving behind […]

The United States and Russia have announced a diplomatic initiative that would bring together representatives from the Syrian regime and opposition forces to negotiate a framework to end the Syrian conflict. Russia previously demonstrated little desire to help forge an agreement between the Syrian regime and opposition, but now seems committed to current efforts to form a transitional government. David Hartwell, principal Middle East and North Africa Analyst at IHS Jane’s, emphasized that the current round of diplomacy is significant as much for relations between the U.S. and Russia as for Syria. “If this entails Americans and Russians working very […]

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