Blackwater founder Erik Prince arrives for a closed meeting with members of the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 30, 2017 (AP photo by Jacquelyn Martin).

It may take years to unravel the tangled web surrounding “Project Opus,” the bungled 2019 mercenary operation to prop up Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar, which allegedly included efforts to deploy a special hit squad to Libya. Few observers tracking the burgeoning global market for privatized armies, however, were likely surprised by reports last week that U.N. investigators suspect the involvement of former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince. The recently leaked U.N. report makes only glancing mention of Prince’s alleged ties to the operation, but it marks the second time since the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings that Prince’s company, Hong Kong-based Frontier […]

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One of former President Donald Trump’s principal legacies was to elevate the attention that U.S. foreign policy accords to China. His administration argued that America’s erstwhile “engage but hedge” approach had failed and that it was time to take a tougher line. The results of his policies, though, suggest that adopting an overly China-centric U.S. foreign policy is mistaken. Pursuant to its more confrontational approach, the Trump administration imposed steep tariffs on Chinese exports and, having concluded that Beijing’s technological progress posed a particularly pressing threat to U.S. national security, took a number of steps to thwart the expansion of […]

French President Emmanuel Macron, right, attends a videoconference meeting as U.S. President Joe Biden appears on a screen, Paris, Feb. 19, 2021 (pool photo by Benoit Tessier via AP Images).

“First thing I’m going to have to do, and I’m not joking,” candidate Joe Biden said last September in a campaign interview about America’s European allies. “If elected I’m going to … get on the phone with the heads of state and say America’s back, you can count on us.” In the end, he delivered his franchise tag line not by phone, but in a video address to a “special edition” of the Munich Security Conference during his first round of trans-Atlantic diplomacy last week. And he added a slight twist: “America is back. The trans-Atlantic alliance is back.” The […]

President Joe Biden signs an executive order on climate change in the State Dining Room of the White House, in Washington, Jan. 27, 2021 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

This is shaping up to be a make-or-break year for international cooperation on biodiversity, though you might not know it. American news outlets have focused most if not all of their recent environmental reporting on climate change. On one level, of course, this makes sense. Climate change is the most daunting collective challenge that humanity has ever faced, and nations have fallen far behind the emissions reduction targets they set in Paris in 2015. Given these stakes, it’s certainly front-page news that President Joe Biden has called climate change a top-tier U.S. national security threat. What’s more, he has also […]

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, right, is greeted by European Commissioner for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova prior to a meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels, Feb. 17, 2020 (AP photo by Francisco Seco).

Editor’s Note: Guest columnists Kate Jones and Emily Taylor are filling in for Candace Rondeaux this week. It’s been an astounding start to 2021 for Big Tech. Not only does the power of companies like Twitter and Facebook now extend to denying a platform to a sitting American president, but the market value of the top 30 U.S. tech companies is now the same as the annual GDP of Europe’s five largest economies. It all raises a familiar question: How long will tech giants be allowed to grow like this, seemingly unchecked and unaccountable? Fortunately, moves are already afoot on […]

From left, Slovakian President Zuzana Caputova, Polish President Andrzej Duda, Hungarian President Janos Ader and Czech President Milos Zeman, during a summit in the Hel Peninsula, Poland, Feb. 9, 2021 (Photo by Jakub Szymczuk for KPRP via AP Images).

Today, the United States’ relations with Central Europe are at an inflection point. Much of the recent media coverage in the region has focused on how Washington’s influence might wane if President Joe Biden picks a fight with the governments of Hungary and Poland, whose leaders had cultivated close ties with Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump. On the campaign trail, Biden bemoaned the recent trajectory of democratic decline and the erosion of checks and balances on executive power in those countries. Meanwhile, illiberal leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Poland’s Jaroslaw Kaczynski are suspicious of Biden’s pledges to make human rights […]

People watch then-President Donald Trump, on left of video screen, and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speak during a presidential debate watch party, San Francisco, Oct. 22, 2020 (AP photo by Jeff Chiu).

The second impeachment trial of Donald Trump presents a dilemma for Joe Biden, who wants to make democracy promotion a central plank of his foreign policy. How can the United States claim to embody, much less promote, democratic values when one of its two major political parties is gripped by an emergent, homegrown fascism? Unless and until the Republican Party or its successor unequivocally repudiates the authoritarian cult of Trumpism and the conspiratorial mindset that fuels it, the United States will remain a house divided, lacking credibility to advance the cause of democracy and the institutions of free societies abroad. […]

Israeli troops clash with Palestinian demonstrators following a weekly demonstration against Israeli Jewish settlements, in the West Bank village of Kafr Qaddum, Sept. 4, 2020 (AP photo by Majdi Mohammed).

Harun Abu Aram was shot in the neck on the first day of the New Year. In a confrontation captured on film, the 24-year-old Palestinian, along with several other men, can be seen tussling with Israeli soldiers who had been trying to seize a village generator in the West Bank’s South Hebron hills—before a single shot rings out. Over a month later, Abu Aram remains in critical condition in a Hebron hospital, paralyzed from the neck down. In the aftermath of the shooting, the Israeli Defense Forces claimed that there had been a “violent disturbance” involving “around 150 Palestinians” who […]

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America’s democracy, once seen as a shining light and inspiration to democrats across the world, was pushed to the brink by Donald Trump’s presidency. In the aftermath of last month’s storming of the Capitol by right-wing extremists, some commentators declared that the United States’ own troubles mean it must now back away from promoting liberal values in the rest of the world. But in fact, the opposite is true: Having repelled a major challenge to its own democracy, America is now better positioned to promote democratic norms and values abroad. Recent events in the U.S. are a powerful reminder that […]

Trump supporters gather outside the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021 (AP photo by John Minchillo).

If the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump achieves one thing, it will be a lasting historical memory of the moment that the Republican Party openly embraced political violence as its brand. As Democrats lay out their case that Trump was “singularly responsible” for the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, the “Grand Old Party” is on the verge of strangling American democracy. This is the part where I’m supposed to say that it’s simply too soon to tell how the trial verdict will play out. Only it’s not too soon. Since only six Republican senators voted Tuesday […]

President Joe Biden signs an executive order on immigration at the White House, Washington, Feb. 2, 2021 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

President Joe Biden inherited an immigration system in shambles. After four years of efforts by Donald Trump’s administration to put up as many barriers as possible for migrants and asylum-seekers hoping to enter the United States, Biden’s team must now reopen America’s doors while avoiding a political backlash in Washington. The new administration has also pledged to work closely with Central American leaders to address the root causes of the migrant crisis, though that will be a longer-term undertaking. This week on the Trend Lines podcast, WPR’s Elliot Waldman was joined by Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin […]

A Houthi supporter holds up his rifle during a demonstration against the United States over its decision to designate the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization, in Sanaa, Yemen, Jan. 25, 2021 (AP photo by Hani Mohammed).

For U.S. officials who worked under former President Barack Obama, many of whom are now beginning or contemplating jobs in Joe Biden’s administration, the war in Yemen casts a long shadow. What started on their watch as a primarily internal power struggle has since metastasized into a messy and multilayered conflict. It is the world’s most dire humanitarian crisis, involving alleged violations of international law—many of them perpetrated with American-made arms—and has become a potential trigger for a region-wide conflagration. For much of Biden’s foreign policy team, then, Yemen represents both unfinished business and, potentially, a small but significant piece […]

President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in support of Republican Senate candidates in Dalton, Georgia, Jan. 4, 2021 (AP photo by Brynn Anderson).

Over the past decade, illiberal populist leaders from across the political spectrum have won elections and taken power in many of the world’s biggest democracies, from the United States to India, the Philippines, Turkey and Brazil. Once in office, they have often undermined democratic norms and institutions, including the media, the judiciary, the civil service, and, in many cases, free and fair elections themselves. The rise of illiberal populism is a major reason why the annual “Freedom in the World” reports, published by the global watchdog organization Freedom House, have charted 14 straight years of global democratic regression. (I serve […]

Supporters of President Donald Trump watch a video during a campaign event in Lansing, Mich., Oct. 27, 2020 (Photo by Nicole Hester for Mlive.com and Ann Arbor News, via AP)

Among the images that circulated in the aftermath of last month’s Capitol insurrection, one video stood apart, an almost iconic representation of the mob unleashed. In it, an enraged supporter of Donald Trump wields a pole flying the American flag to repeatedly strike a police officer who, having been dragged down the stone steps of the Capitol, lies at the crowd’s feet. The video requires no deep analysis to identify the violence it portrays as a threat to liberal democracy. A very different video that began to go viral in late September is of another register altogether. In it, a […]

Crews construct a section of the border wall in San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge, Douglas, Arizona, Dec. 8, 2020 (AP photo by Matt York).

Since he took office last month, President Joe Biden has moved quickly to overhaul Donald Trump’s immigration policies. Among other measures, the new administration has moved to rebuild the U.S. refugee resettlement program, which had been gutted under Trump; ended the “safe third country” agreements that aimed to force asylum-seekers to first register their claims in other nations before traveling to the United States; stopped construction of the wall along parts of the U.S. border with Mexico; and issued a 100-day pause on deportations, although that order has been temporarily blocked by a federal judge. Adam Isacson, a longtime WPR […]

Supporters listen as then-President Donald Trump speaks during a rally in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

Can there be Trumpism without Trump? In the wake of the Capitol riot, this is an urgent, but also surprisingly complicated question. After half a decade of debate, it is still far from obvious that we know what “Trumpism” actually is. Some have taken it as a local instance of a global phenomenon often described as the “wave of populism,” or as part of a worldwide revolt against neoliberalism. For example, as social scientists Jonathan Hopkin and Mark Blyth have put it, “Trump is a data point. Global Trumpism is a structural shift.” But it is important to recognize that […]

A woman holds up a sign that reads, in Spanish, “Cubans with Biden,” as then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks in Miramar, Florida, Oct. 13, 2020 (AP photo by Carolyn Kaster).

Few countries suffered more from former President Donald Trump’s policies than Cuba. The Trump administration imposed sanctions and restrictions designed to blow up the historic detente between Washington and Havana forged by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama. These measures—as well as sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry, which cut off a much-needed source of subsidized energy—battered Cuba’s state-run economy, which has also been hard-hit by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the country’s critical tourism sector. As a result, in a moment of political transition and quickening market reforms, Cuba is now experiencing its worst economic crisis since the “Special Period,” […]

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