U.S. President Barack Obama delivering a speech at the University of Yangon, Myanmar, Nov. 19, 2012 (AP photo by Gemunu Amarasinghe).

Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing WPR series inviting authors to identify the biggest priority—whether a threat, risk, opportunity or challenge—facing the international order and U.S. foreign policy today. America’s traditional role in promoting democracy and human rights abroad has fallen out of favor in a serious way. It has rarely registered a mention during this year’s presidential campaign, and Republican candidate Donald Trump has suggested that the United States lacks the standing to criticize human rights lapses abroad, given social turmoil at home. For all its various legacies, the Obama administration will leave little mark on […]

A remote-controlled weaponized robot on display at the 8th China International Exhibition on Police Equipment, Beijing, China, May 19, 2016 (AP photo by Ng Han Guan).

Throughout history there have been times when new technology changed how wars were fought, and the politics of war itself, in ways that its early adapters did not anticipate. When fragile flying machines first appeared over the battlefield, who could have foreseen that one day bombers, drones and missiles could strike with such precision and at such range that they would alter the actual role of geography in warfare? Today, another revolutionary technology is emerging with robots, but its implications remain unclear. With the robotic revolution, America’s futurists, military leaders, strategists and policymakers must work hard to cast a light […]

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump campaigning at a recycling facility, Monessen, Pa., June 28, 2016 (AP photo by Keith Srakocic).

Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing WPR series inviting authors to identify the biggest priority—whether a threat, risk, opportunity or challenge—facing the international order and U.S. foreign policy today. For the past decade, globalization and anti-globalization perplexingly fell out of favor in the analytical narratives of most commentators on international affairs. The winners and losers of globalization, which defined the major debates about economic policies during the 1990s and early 2000s, simply ceased to be discussed. Perhaps it was because this particular framing was closely tied to debates about the World Trade Organization, protests against it, and […]

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at a rally at St. Anselm College, Manchester, N.H., Oct. 24, 2016 (AP photo by Andrew Harnik).

In 2006, Time Magazine famously named “you”—the producers of user-generated internet content—as its collective person of the year. The following year’s choice was more orthodox: a head of state, Russia’s Vladimir Putin. The stark contrast between the historical implications of each selection might not have been fully appreciated at the time, but they stand out more clearly now. The first represents the anarchic diffusion of power from the state to the individual made possible by the advances in information and communications technologies. The second represents the major countervailing trend in global politics today, namely the return of authoritarian leaders concentrating […]

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Gary J. Volesky meets with an Iraqi soldier before the Mosul offensive, Iraq, Oct. 10, 2016 (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Robert Lemmons).

In 2014, the so-called Islamic State rolled across northern Iraq in a shocking offensive, as Iraqi security forces crumbled before it. Although the extremists could not take Baghdad, they did occupy several major cities, mostly importantly Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, which they quickly turned into their de facto capital. But 2014 was their high-water mark: Since then Iraqi security forces and Shiite and Kurdish militias regrouped and pushed the Islamic State back. Now the most important battle of the counteroffensive has begun with an ongoing operation to recapture Mosul. Kurdish forces known as peshmerga, advancing in gun trucks and armored […]

Brazilian President Michel Temer, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinese President Xi Jinping and South African President Jacob Zuma at the BRICS summit, Goa, India, Oct. 16, 2016 (AP photo by Manish Swarup).

The most newsworthy thing about last weekend’s BRICS summit, judging from the dearth of media coverage of the gathering in Goa, India, was its lack of newsworthiness. As recently as last year, the BRICS summit was accompanied by headlines of the challenge the grouping of major emerging economies poses to America’s global position. As a coherent political bloc, the BRICS—made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—was always overblown. Now it seems it has already blown over. To be fair, Sputnik International, the Kremlin-financed Russian propaganda outfit, made a valiant effort this year to highlight the forum’s “expanding […]

President Barack Obama and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi, at the White House, May 13, 2015 (AP photo by Carolyn Kaster).

Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing WPR series inviting authors to identify the biggest priority—whether a threat, risk, opportunity or challenge—facing the international order and U.S. foreign policy today. President Barack Obama’s second term has illuminated the dysfunctional nature of many of the United States’ closest relationships in the Arab world and the need to rebalance its commitments. Some of this dysfunction is a product of policy differences, such as the strains between the U.S. and the Gulf states on both Syria and the Iran nuclear deal. But the roots of other facets go back further, to […]

Iraqi forces deployed during an offensive to retake Mosul from Islamic State militants outside Mosul, Oct. 17, 2016 (AP photo by Khalid Mohammed).

Early Monday morning, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the beginning of military operations to retake Mosul, two years after the so-called Islamic State seized the city. The anticipated recapture of the Sunni-majority city by a diverse coalition of forces holds the promise of improving some of Iraq’s most troubling trends. How the U.S. manages the complex politics of the coalition and how Abadi handles the Shiite players involved in the offensive will be critical to shaping the political aftermath of any eventual military success. In the run-up to the campaign to retake Mosul, the U.S. provided additional troops to […]

U.S. President Barack Obama and leaders from India, Brunei, Vietnam and Laos at the 11th East Asia Summit, Vientiane, Laos, Sept. 8, 2016 (AP photo by Carolyn Kaster).

September revealed the limits of U.S. President Barack Obama’s engagement in Asia. There was some good news, of course. On his last trip to the region, he became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Laos, where he acknowledged “the suffering and sacrifices on all sides” of America’s secret war in the 1960s and 1970s and pledged to mend ties between the two countries. Later in the month, he met with Myanmar’s de-facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, at the White House. There he announced that all remaining sanctions on Myanmar would be lifted, a reward for the country’s democratic […]

Former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to journalists after a speech at the annual Women’s Empowerment Principles event at the United Nations, New York (March 10, 2015).

Are Antonio Guterres and Hillary Clinton on course for a clash over Syria in early 2017? The question may seem premature. Guterres was only confirmed as the next United Nations secretary-general last week and will take up the post at the beginning of January. Clinton is still campaigning hard to be U.S. president. If, as now seems likely, she wins November’s election, Clinton and Guterres will face a common dilemma over what to do about Syria from the start of next year. The Russian-backed assault by Syrian forces on Aleppo has left both the Obama administration and the U.N. on […]

Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump cheer during a campaign rally, Oct. 13, 2016, Cincinnati, Oh. (AP photo by John Minchillo).

Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing WPR series inviting authors to identify the biggest priority—whether a threat, risk, opportunity or challenge—facing the international order and U.S. foreign policy today. Anti-trade sentiment in the United States, embodied in Republican candidate Donald Trump’s campaign for the presidency, has risen dramatically over the past two years. The conventional wisdom says that protectionism is on the rise due to the economic impact of globalization. Free trade agreements have cost U.S. jobs and driven down wages in many regions of the country, which has fueled the backlash and aided Trump’s rise. The […]

U.S. President Barack Obama meets with congressional leaders, Washington, Sept. 12, 2016 (AP photo by Jacquelyn Martin).

With Donald Trump’s presidential campaign rapidly disintegrating, the chances are good that Hillary Clinton will be the next president of the United States. Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight election forecast now pegs Clinton’s odds of victory at over 80 percent. The New York Times gives her a close to 90 percent chance of winning. Barring some monumental and unprecedented shift over the next few weeks, the outcome of the 2016 election is set. If current trends hold, this will be a monumental defeat for the Republicans more broadly, potentially causing them not only to miss a chance to retake the White House, […]

Still frame from video provided by Doctors Without Borders shows a house on fire in Aleppo, Syria, Oct. 5, 2016 (Doctors Without Borders via AP).

Will the next American president be able to save Syria? No. What about the international norm of preventing atrocities against civilians? Again, no. That’s ultimately the takeaway from the short exchange about Syria in Sunday’s mostly awful Town Hall-style debate between U.S. presidential hopefuls Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. While Trump is more aligned with President Barack Obama’s reticence toward escalating America’s military involvement in Syria than Clinton, neither candidate offered any big new ideas about the conflict. The long-term worry is not just about how the obvious limits to American power in this crisis will affect other issues, but […]

President Rodrigo Duterte reviewing troops at the Philippine Air Force headquarters, Pasay, Philippines, Sept. 13, 2016 (AP photo by Bullit Marquez).

Over the past decade, the United States and the Philippines have bolstered what was already a strong strategic and diplomatic relationship with deep historical roots and a 65-year treaty alliance. During the George W. Bush administration, after 9/11, the U.S. launched a training and assistance program for the Philippine armed forces, designed to help combat terrorist networks based in the southern Philippines, especially Abu Sayyaf. For a time, a significant detachment of U.S. Special Forces was based there, training Philippine soldiers. Under the Obama administration, the U.S. and the Philippines have moved even closer together. For the past six years […]

A member of the Civilian Expeditionary Workforce talks to a local business owner, Kandahar Province, Mar. 13, 2013 (Kentucky National Guard photo by Lt. Col. Dallas Kratzer).

One of the mantras of the U.S. Marine Corps is that every Marine is first and foremost a rifleman, regardless of their actual military occupational specialty. Whether accurate or not, that reflects an idea that has historically animated all militaries: Those who actually fight with enemies are seen as the centerpiece and the model. All the rest of the military are expected to reflect the capabilities, psychological characteristics, moral foundation, ethos and physical attributes of fighters. This idea, call it the “warrior mindset,” has become so deeply ingrained in the American military that it is seldom discussed or analyzed. But […]

Children peer from a partially destroyed home, Aleppo, Syria, Feb. 11, 2016 (Komsomolskaya Pravda photo by Alexander Kots).

Should the United States use military means to try to stop Syrian and Russian forces from massacring the civilian population of Aleppo? If the answer to that question is no, then what level of atrocity is the U.S., and the world, willing to tolerate in Syria—and elsewhere—before intervening? The questions in isolation are relatively straightforward to answer. But when we consider them in tandem, the answers become mutually incompatible. This is the crux of the tragedy of the Syrian civil war for those not condemned to suffer its terrible consequences directly. At first glance, the case for intervening on humanitarian […]

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter at the Presidential Palace, Kabul, Afghanistan, July 12, 2016 (AP photo by Rahmat Gul).

A “less is more” school of thought seems to be emerging in Western capitals where policymakers, public intellectuals and on-the-ground practitioners are trying to find ways to improve the outcomes of international interventions and post-conflict stabilization operations. It may be a fine-tuned judgment about the limited effectiveness and disappointing track record of past efforts, and also about the capacities of receiving countries to absorb aid and technical assistance. But it’s also an expression of the crisis of confidence in Western countries about their core activities to make the world a better place. Syria is the extreme example that raises doubts […]

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