Police officers prevent access to the church where a hostage-taking claimed by ISIS left a priest dead, Normandy, France, July 27, 2016 (AP photo by Francois Mori).

Though only a little more than half over, 2016 has already turned into a tragically bloody year of terrorism. What is concerning is not simply the extent of this violence but the ongoing mutation of terrorism into new forms. This is not unexpected. Terrorism constantly changes as the dark organizations that use it innovate. Terrorists seek to cause fear, anxiety, panic and overreaction. The unknown and unexpected amplifies fear, so once the terrorists’ intended audience adapts to a type or level of violence, they must escalate or find new methods. As is often true in strategy, what works today for […]

A young Honduran immigrant during a news conference about conditions for Central American immigrants, Washington, May 18, 2016 (AP photo by Jacquelyn Martin).

On Tuesday, the Obama administration announced that it would admit more migrants from Central America into the United States as refugees, expanding a program that observers have criticized as inadequate in the face of an exodus of people, many of them unaccompanied minors, fleeing violence and poverty in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras over the past two years. Under the program to date, unaccompanied Central American children seeking to reunite with their families living in the United States have been allowed to apply for refugee status; since it came into effect in 2014, the program has received some 9,500 applications. […]

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a news conference, Tampa, Florida, July 27, 2016 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump shocked the U.S. foreign policy establishment last week when he told the New York Times that he might not come to the rescue of a Baltic state, all three of which are NATO members, if the Russians invaded. While Trump later explained that his hesitation stemmed from concerns over NATO members paying their dues, it is evident that when it comes to the Atlantic alliance, Trump’s misgivings go beyond dollars and cents. Trump’s most recent statements were consistent with other comments he has made regarding Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin and NATO, the bloc created […]

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks during the third day of the Republican National Convention, Cleveland, July 20, 2016. (AP photo by J. Scott Applewhite).

Last week I spent four days in Cleveland listening to speakers at the Republican Party’s national convention describe an America I don’t recognize. According to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and dozens of other convention speakers, the United States is beset by threats from all directions: murderous illegal immigrants crossing the border in droves; Syrian refugees intent on coming to this country to kill Americans; and terrorists hiding in the shadows ready to strike at a moment’s notice, to name just a few. Of course, virtually none of this is true. But to paraphrase an old saw, if the convention […]

Afghan men carry the coffin of a relative who died in a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 25, 2016 (AP photos by Rahmat Gul).

The most recent suicide bombing in Kabul over the weekend, claimed by the so-called Islamic State, contrasts with the near absence of debate over Afghanistan in the U.S. presidential campaign to date. President Barack Obama’s decision to slow down the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country may be enough to delay a difficult debate about abandoning the Afghans. But as the bombing highlights, the presence of U.S. and coalition forces is clearly not sufficient to prevent the violence that plagues Afghanistan. The next president will have a chance to revalidate or reposition U.S. engagement there. The larger challenge is […]

A Russian SU-24 jet making a close-range, low altitude pass near the USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea, April 12, 2016 (U.S. Navy photo via AP).

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles inviting authors to identify the biggest priority—whether a threat, risk, opportunity or challenge—facing the international order and U.S. foreign policy today. A war between Russia and the United States is more likely today than at any time since the worst years of the Cold War. This may sound implausible or exaggerated to policymakers, journalists and the wider public. Yet the fact remains that increasing deployments by both sides, coupled with severely constrained direct dialogue, mean that dangerous incidents will become far more likely and will be far harder to […]

Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump speaks during the final day of the Republican National Convention, Cleveland, July 21, 2016 (AP photo by Carolyn Kaster).

Despite a historically unprecedented degree of national security, many Americans are worried about defeat at the hands of a motley group of violent extremists, particularly the so-called Islamic State. This climate of fear has been building steadily since the 9/11 attacks on the United States, which taught many political leaders as well as much of the military and intelligence community that it was safer to overinflate threats than to underestimate them. People are rarely ever held accountable for dire warnings that prove to be wrong, but they often are for failing to prevent an attack. The result, as Michael Cohen […]

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, third left, visits the Hemeimeem air base, Syria, June 18, 2016 (Russian Defense Ministry photo by Vadim Savitsky via AP).

While the world focuses on the so-called Islamic State, the other main jihadi group in Syria—the one still affiliated with al-Qaida—has been biding its time. The Nusra Front has extended its footprint in northwestern Syria as the civil war has dragged on, embedding itself in the patchwork of rebel groups there and, more recently, dreaming of a statelet of its own. The Obama administration, apparently alarmed at those prospects, is now moving to work more closely with Russia to attack the Nusra Front. In a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this month, U.S. President Barack Obama discussed […]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with U.S. President Barack Obama during a session of the G-20 Summit, Antalya, Turkey, Nov. 15, 2015 (AP photo via Anadolu Agency).

A military coup against a democratically elected government constitutes a blatant affront against democracy. And yet, as Ellen Laipson pointed out in her WPR column earlier this week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s defeat of an attempted coup on July 15 does not herald a strengthening of Turkey’s democracy. In fact, all signs point to an acceleration of his push toward autocratic rule. Given Erdogan’s countercoup moves—which so far appear to include demolishing limitations on his growing, if still not constitutionally sanctioned, executive power—one increasingly important question looms: What does the future hold for the pivotal relationship between the United […]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov after a news conference, Moscow, Russia, July 15, 2016, (AP photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko).

Winston Churchill once quipped that the only thing worse than fighting a war with allies is fighting one without them. Looking at the Middle East, U.S. President Barack Obama might wish he could get rid of his regional allies anyway. His efforts to stabilize the region have been persistently weakened or derailed by America’s supposed friends. Israel tried hard to block last year’s Iranian nuclear deal. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states have deliberately stirred up the Syrian war, even as Washington has been doing its best to try to end it through diplomacy. Now the turbulence in Turkey threatens […]

Chinese soldiers board a U.S. Coast Guard boat as part of a Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise, Pacific Ocean, July 16, 2014 (U.S Coast Guard photo by Manda M. Emery).

While America’s conflict with the so-called Islamic State draws the most attention these days, no security issue is more important than the difficult relationship between the United States and China. The Islamic State is a strategic nuisance that will eventually flame out and fade, but serious conflict between the U.S. and China could alter the course of history. Since Richard Nixon’s opening to China in the 1970s, the relationship between the two sides has been complex, with cooperation on economic concerns and persistent tension in the political realm. More recently, security issues have become particularly difficult, as China has used […]

President Barack Obama making a statement on Afghanistan from the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Washington, July 6, 2016 (AP photo by Susan Walsh).

Last week, President Barack Obama announced his intention to slow the final stages of the drawdown of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Combined with new rules of engagement that allow U.S. forces to engage more easily with the Taliban, the move ensures that the longest war in American history will continue after his presidency comes to an end in 6 months. Obama’s announcement that the U.S. would leave 8,400 troops stationed in Afghanistan through the end of his presidency, rather than the previously planned 5,500, was hardly unexpected. The military has been pushing to extend the mission for several months now, […]

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi at an operations center outside Fallujah, Iraq, June 1, 2016 (AP photo by Khalid Mohammed).

The Middle East has a long history of authoritarianism, and the legacy of that history is illustrated in contrasting ways by two key states in the region. Turkey, a flawed but functioning democracy for most of a century, is returning to a more authoritarian model, while Iraq has replaced its strongman with a more normal political leader, provoking nostalgia for the old system. The U.S. has some leverage to push both states to strike the right balance between too little or too much power at the top. Before the Arab Spring, political scientists examining the durability of authoritarianism in the […]

Iraqi security forces and civilians gather at the scene of a deadly suicide car bomb attack, Baghdad, Iraq, June 9, 2016 (AP photo by Hadi Mizban).

When facing an adversary, the U.S. military always searches for what Carl von Clausewitz, the great 19th-century Prussian theorist of war, called the “center of gravity.” Clausewitz used the term to refer to the primary source of a combatant’s power and strength, which can take many forms, including control over a strategically valuable territory or key command-and-control center, like a capital city; or something more amorphous, like public support for the government or alliance cohesion. Today’s military strategists believe that the most effective way to defeat any enemy is to identify its center of gravity, and then destroy or control […]

Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump at a rally, Raleigh, N.C., July 5, 2016 (AP photo by Gerry Broome).

If one had to choose the biggest loser in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, globalized free trade would be as good a place as any to start. Among Republican and Democratic candidates, free trade deals have become the red-headed stepchildren of the 2016 campaign. For the presidential bids of presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, they are the biggest proverbial punching bags. Even Hillary Clinton, a long-time free trader and the presumptive Democratic nominee, has been forced to back away from her support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal. But much of the criticism of liberalized […]

Pakistani protesters rally against recent U.S. drone attack in Pakistani territory, Lahore, Pakistan, June 10, 2016 (AP photo by K.M. Chaudary).

The Obama administration recently released government information about civilian casualties from U.S. drone strikes targeting terrorists and violent extremists. The data was long-promised and long-awaited, but its release nevertheless received a tepid response from advocates for greater transparency. While the administration deserves some credit for finally acting on its own pledge, it’s clear that total transparency on this and other security issues is not an easy bar to clear. What’s more, it may not resolve disputes over policy and in some cases is not even desirable. Upon taking office, U.S. President Barack Obama set as an early goal “an unprecedented […]

People install solar panels as part of relief efforts from the January 2010 earthquake, Boucan Carre, Haiti, Feb. 14, 2012, (AP photo by Dieu Nalio Chery).

The year 2010 started with two large earthquakes less than two months apart. The strongest one, by far, was the earthquake in February in Concepcion, Chile, that killed about 250 people. Unfortunately, the earthquake also generated a tsunami, and since an adequate early warning was not issued along the Chilean coast, the tsunami ended up doubling the death toll. A month before, however, a much weaker earthquake shook another coastal city on the other side of the Americas: Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Tragically and catastrophically, many of the city’s buildings collapsed, and the death toll may have reached more than a quarter […]

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